California lawmakers shelve single-payer healthcare proposal

On Friday, February 17, 2017, California State Senators Ricardo Lara (D-33rd District) and Toni Atkins (D-39th District) introduced Senate Bill 562, also known as the Healthy California Act, to the Senate Rules Committee. The bill proposes the creation of a single-payer healthcare plan for residents of California as an alternative to the existing federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, enacted in January of 2014.

On Friday, June 25, the Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) decided to put the bill on hold until more details can be added and some of its flaws addressed. Some supporters of the bill, namely the California Nurses Association, have called this action “cowardly.”

The Healthy California Act would create a single-payer healthcare plan in California as opposed the the multi-payer plan that was created through the Affordable Care Act. This means that instead of having to pay for the healthcare directly, the California state government would pay for everything through taxes and possible federal assistance. However, the proposed mode of funding for the healthcare plan is currently just speculation and the cost of the plan was only released when the Senate Standing Committee on Appropriations held their hearing for the bill.

The healthcare program will be governed by an external and public board consisting of nine members that are appointed by both the state governor and senate. Four members are appointed by the governor, two by the Senate Rules Committee and two by the Speaker of the Assembly with the state Secretary of Health and Human Services, or their designee, serving as a voting, ex officio member.

On Monday, May 22, 2017, the Senate Standing Committee on Appropriations determined that, to fund the Healthy California Act, it would cost approximately $400 billion with the cost subject to change. In order to afford this bill, the board in charge of governing the healthcare program will apply to the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services for funding. The Standing Committee on Appropriations believes that the federal government will fund around $200 billion while the California payroll tax would be increased to around 15 percent in order to pay for the rest of the costs. However, there is much apprehension of how costs would be covered, with representatives concerned by the ambiguity in the bill. The bill claims that co-pays, additional taxes and supplemental federal loans would cover the initial costs for starting the new healthcare system, but more details are needed in order to accurately measure how much it would cost on California’s residents.

In his May budget proposal, California Governor Jerry Brown decided to cut funding of California’s Health and Human Services Agency by $713.2 million. This was the only state agency that would lose funding.

The new healthcare system would also take years to properly implement. In their reviewing of the bill, the Standing Committee on Appropriations staff commented, “there is tremendous uncertainty in how such a system would be developed, how the transition to the new system would occur, and how participants in the new system would behave.”

In spite of the numerous programs the bill plans to cover, including, but not limited to, Medi-Cal, Medicare, the state’s Children’s Health Initiative Program and other additional health care and social services that may not be covered under pre-existing third-party healthcare providers, critics of the bill point out how extraneous these services may be, arguing how the flexibility of other healthcare providers accommodated their needs and budget.

Some students are concerned about the long-term consequences and the imminent repercussions the proposed healthcare plan may have on California residents. Carlos Ivan Serna, a fourth-year political science major at UCR, sees that the “bill completely misses its mark in that it’s trying to implement a system that’s going to add $400 billion dollars of costs annually… that’s already so much (more) of what we already have, as a state, to spend … in that it’s not feasible.”

Recent UCR graduate in political science, law and society Arturo Gomez argued the contrary in a phone interview. “Despite some issues with funding sources that can be solved down the road, having California become the testing site for single payer (healthcare plan) can very well demonstrate that government-run healthcare can not only work, but also save more lives,” Gomez argued.

Gomez also argued that it would be more beneficial to those in need of health insurance or better health insurance. “It would assist those underinsured and uninsured to get the care they need without having to pay an arm or a leg,” Gomez stated.

Director of the UCR Center for Sustainable Suburban Development and former Riverside Mayor Ronald Loveridge described the efforts to create a single-payer healthcare system in California as “clearly an aspirational call.”

“Clearly it (single-payer healthcare systems) has worked in other countries, but it’s difficult to adopt here in the states,” Loveridge stated.

The bill is currently being held at desk and shelved, meaning the bill has not had committee referral or the committee has not held an action yet, after being read once by the State Assembly. Since the California senate is in the first of a two year term, senators and assemblymen may bring the bill forward again sometime next year. The committee motion states that the bill should be passed as amended.


By: Nicholas Frakes, SW and Vivian Lee, CW

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