A California Senate committee tasked with reviewing bills that spend state money passed a $400 billion universal health care proposal Thursday with no funding plan.
Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, introduced SB 562, a sweeping overhaul of the state’s health insurance market. He’s also the chair of Senate Appropriations. The committee passed the bill with a 5-2 vote during a fast-paced suspense file hearing, clearing the way for it to be taken up on the Senate floor next week.
The vote came days after the committee revealed the Legislature’s first cost assessment of the bill, which turns out to be more than the entire state budget for the year beginning July 1.
Lara has yet to reveal a detailed plan about how the state would come up with the money to provide health care to the nearly 40 million people living in California. Opponents argued that the funding issue should have been addressed before the committee voted on the measure.
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“This is the biggest government expansion of a health care system ever, with the exception of maybe the ACA,” said David Wolfe, the legislative director for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
“Why would you just mindlessly pass that through without more details? The lack of transparency here is stunning,” he said. “It would be interesting to hypothesize, if it wasn’t the chairman’s bill, would it have been held?”
Lara’s office doesn’t expect to release a financing plan before the Senate votes on the bill. The bill was amended Thursday to include a provision that the proposal could not take effect until the Legislature comes up with a plan to pay for it.
Lara said he believes it’s possible to come up with a sustainable funding mechanism that doesn’t overtax people and guarantees coverage for all. He described the bill as an answer to attempts in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act and strip millions of coverage on Thursday.
“Republicans in Congress voted to strip healthcare from 23 million people without a hearing or a fiscal analysis,” Lara said in a statement. “We have already held two hearings and had an analysis, and I will be introducing a plan to pay for this program and cover every California. With Republicans determined to take away people’s healthcare, we can’t afford to wait.”
The bill’s passage through the committee seemed all but certain despite the dearth of information. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León told reporters at the California Democratic Party Convention over the weekend that “we’ll have a nice full-fledged debate on the Senate floor.”
At a Capitol rally, RoseAnn DeMoro, the leader of the California Nurses Association, attempted to bully Democrats into supporting the bill with threats to campaign against those who don’t vote for it. The union is paying researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to examine potential ways to pay the tab.
Sen. Patricia Bates, the Republican leader and vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, called the bill’s passage a “violation of the process.” Bates and Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, are the only two Republicans on the seven-member committee and voted against the bill.
“We’re thinking about it as a concept that we’re going to pass without any detail,” Bates said. “I hope at some point rational thinking kicks in and we’re not just driven by this lobbying effort. Good policy doesn’t come out of intimidation.”
Lara introduced the bill with Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, as an attempt to reduce overall health care costs and provide coverage to all Californians. The bill wipes out the private insurance market and allows government to negotiate prices with providers, acting as the “single payer” for everyone’s health care.