Universal health care bill moves forward in California assembly – The Mercury News

by Adam Beam

Sacramento, Calif. (AP) — California Democrats on Tuesday took their first steps toward dismantling the private health insurance market in the nation’s most populous state, replacing it with a government-run plan they’ve promised will take any will also not deny the need for their care.

But the proposal, which is approved by a legislative committee in the state assembly, has a long way to go before it becomes a law. It is facing stiff opposition from powerful business interests, who say its price will be too high. And even if it becomes law, voters will have to approve a massive income tax hike to pay for it – a vote that may not happen until 2024.

Still, Democrats lauded Tuesday’s vote for advancing one of their long-held policy goals and indicated they would not back down from the fight, even during an election year. In an hour-long hearing, some lawmakers and advocates attacked the health care industry, saying corporate interests have benefited at the expense of consumers.

Eddie Barkan, 38, a married father of two children, was diagnosed with ALS six years ago and is now mostly paralyzed. He testified at Tuesday’s hearing with the help of a computerized voice that spoke as he typed using a technology that followed the movement of his eyes. Barkan said he has fought to get treatment from his private insurance carrier, including suing to get the ventilators that keep him alive.

“Even good health insurance, which I have, doesn’t cover the cost of the care I need to survive,” he said.

To pay for everything, Democrats have introduced a separate bill that would raise taxes on businesses and individuals by about $163 billion per year, according to an analysis by the California Taxpayers Association that opposed the bill. Voters must approve the tax increase. Assembly member Ash Kalra, a Democrat from San Jose and the resolution’s author, said Tuesday that it could be 2024 before the proposal is put on the ballot.

This bill, introduced on Tuesday, will create a universal health care system and set its rules. It cleared the Vidhan Sabha Health Committee by 11-3 votes. Republicans voted not, arguing that the bill would cost too much and pay doctors and nurses less, potentially worsening the shortage of health care workers.

“If government-run health care becomes law, millions of Californians will flee the state – either to avoid the $163 billion per year in new taxes or to avoid the long wait for care that will become the norm, Assembly Republican Leader Mary Waldron said. ,

Even some Democrats who voted for the bill drew sharp criticism for the proposal. Assembly member Autumn Burke, a Democrat from Inglewood, said the process was mocked by moving the bill without any funding sources.

“This bill sold my community that it’s going to change things now and it’s free. And none of those things are true,” she said.

Business groups led by the California Chamber of Commerce said the government-run health care system would be so expensive that the tax hike still wouldn’t be enough to pay for everything. In 2018, California’s total health care spending was $399.2 billion, accounting for 13.2% of the state’s GDP, according to an analysis by the Healthy California for All Commission.

“Completely dismantling the current system in the face of the incredible pandemic by taxing hundreds of billions of California dollars annually is not the solution,” said Preston Young, a policy advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce.

Kalra, a San Jose Democrat and author of the proposal, said he knew opponents would focus on how much the plan would cost. But he said the argument detracts from the fact that California is already paying “the highest health tax in the world.”

“You can refer to it as premiums, deductibles, co-pays, denial of care,” Kalra said, “none of those costs would exist under a universal health care system.” “It is clear that they are being robbed as day and many people feel helpless to understand about it.”

California’s health care system is paid for by a number of entities – patients, insurance companies, employers, and governments. But a universal health care system would be paid for by a single entity – the government, or “single payer”.

A single payer system has been a mainstay of California’s progressive political rhetoric for decades. But this is not easy to accomplish in a state where most people pay for private health insurance through their jobs. In 1994, voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot initiative that would have created a universal health care system. Another attempt passed in the state Senate in 2017, but it never got a vote in the state legislature.

Questions about how to pay for a single payer system have doomed previous plans. In 2011, Vermont implemented the nation’s first universal health care system in the country. But state officials dropped it after three years because they said they could not pay for it.

Governor Gavin Newsom promised to do it when running for governor in 2018 and voters elected him in a landslide. But in his first three years in office, Newsom has focused more on making sure everyone in California has health insurance — a strategy he said incorporates the “spirit” of a single-payer system.

“When you’re governor, you’ve got to be in the ‘how’ business,” Newsom said. “I believe in the single payer financing model. The ‘how’ at the state level is a question that needs to be answered thoughtfully.”