Capitol Alert

Unfunded health care promises are ‘snake oil,’ says would-be California governor

Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa likes to say healthcare is a right, not a privilege.

In 1994, the former assemblyman who went on to become speaker wrote a bill to expand Medi-Cal to poor children. Later, he wrote the 1997 law that established the Healthy Families Program, providing uninsured children with medical coverage. As mayor of Los Angeles in 2006, he backed legislation creating a statewide single-payer health insurance program.

But now as a candidate for governor, Villaraigosa said he isn’t prepared to embrace single-payer without first identifying a way to pay for it, putting him at odds with his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who says he would push a universal, single-payer system, and is working with allies on such a proposal.

“What you’ll get from me is a straight-talker,” Villaraigosa said Wednesday in Sacramento, where he was attending an Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event.

“Anybody proposing to you something like that ... is trying to sell you snake oil, looking at you like a, like a, I won’t say who. As if we aren’t intelligent,” he said.

“If you’re looking for snake oil, I’m not your guy.”

Asked later if his remarks were directed at Newsom, Villaraigosa demurred.

“You won’t draw me into a thing with anyone. I said what I said. You’ll connect the dots. You’ll figure it out.”

As for how to move forward on healthcare, Villaraigosa said the priority is finding a way to make up for cuts to Obamacare, a position more in line with Gov. Jerry Brown. House Republicans were set to vote Thursday on an Obamacare repeal.

“We could lose up to $20 billion with the proposals from D.C.,” Villaraigosa said. “Let’s figure out how we can provide healthcare to as many people as possible, and ‘re-imagine’ that with the money we have.”

Villaraigosa said he then would be open to convening a working group to address how to proceed.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago