Capitol Alert

Time to get serious about ‘health care for all,’ says California Assembly leader who blocked it before

California Nurses Association protests shelving of single-payer health care bill

Anger over Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s decision to shelve universal health care legislation in California boiled over into aggressive protests against the Democratic leader by the California Nurses Association.
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Anger over Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s decision to shelve universal health care legislation in California boiled over into aggressive protests against the Democratic leader by the California Nurses Association.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said Thursday it’s time for the state Legislature to have a “serious discussion” on how to create a universal health care system for all of California.

Rendon has been under fire from the California Nurses Association and supporters of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders for refusing to bring Senate Bill 562 to the Assembly floor earlier this year. The bill, by state Sens. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, sought to reorganize California’s health care financing under a government-run system operated by the state. Known as single-payer health care, the approach would eliminate the need for insurance companies. There would be no copays, deductibles or other out-of-pocket costs.

Rendon, who says he has long supported single-payer health care, in June called the measure “woefully incomplete,” because its authors failed to nail down key details, such as how it would be paid for, how it would affect delivery of care and how the state would address challenges to implementing it under the Trump administration. Rendon on Thursday suggested the authors sought swift passage of the bill this year for political reasons.

“For me, this is an attempt to have an honest discussion,” Rendon said in a brief interview with reporters. “I don’t think we’ve at all had anything close to approaching an honest discussion about single payer.”

He is organizing a select committee on health care this fall to discuss how the Legislature can move forward on improving health care access for the entire state.

“There are several different approaches being proposed, including Medicare for all, single payer, hybrid systems and (Affordable Care Act) expansion,” Rendon said in a prepared statement. “I have called for these hearings to determine what approach best gets us there – what gets us to ‘yes’ when it comes to health care for all.”

The nurses association was immediately critical of the action, saying Rendon sabotaged the Democratic process. The move would delay “the immediate and urgent relief that 15 million Californians who remain uninsured or struggling to meet unpayable medical bills endure every day,” the group said in a statement.

Nurses suggested Rendon was responding to their pressure to adopt single-payer health care this year, and said they would continue knocking on doors in Assembly districts in attempt to force a vote.

The move comes after several failed attempts, led by Republicans in Congress, to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, and Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, will lead the Assembly’s discussions. Rendon said the committee will look across the U.S. and abroad when analyzing different health care financing and delivery models, noting “there’s a lot of different models of single payer.”

“It’s not a question of debating whether we move toward health care for all – it’s a matter of choosing how best and how soon,” Rendon said. “The committee’s work will help fill the void of due diligence that should have been done on SB 562 or any universal health care bill that so profoundly affects so many Californians.”

Wood expressed caution about speeding through the process.

“Our health care system started evolving in the late 1940s ... it’s going to take a while to change,” Wood said. “At the end of the day, this is not going to be an empty promise.”

Wood said he “preferred” to see a more “robust” bill from Lara and Atkins, but “that ship has sailed,” he said. He’s “absolutely willing” to work with them on health care, but said the end result may not be a single-payer system.

“I think we need to explore all of our options,” he said. “There is single-payer health care in 60 countries and it’s different in every country ... we should be looking at every possibility.”

The single-payer bill passed the Senate floor earlier this year. It stalled in the Assembly and was never taken up for a committee vote. A Senate committee said it would cost $400 billion per year to implement. Because it is a two-year bill, it could be taken up again next year.

In a prepared statement, Lara called the Assembly’s committee an “important step to a bicameral discussion about health care for all and to getting SB 562 on track for debate in the Assembly.”

“Now is the time for California to lead on health care, and I look forward to working with the speaker and Assembly colleagues to shape the future of universal health care,” Lara added.

Sen. Ricardo Lara, seeking to pass single-payer health care, told fellow senators on June 1, 2017 that he grew up in a family that relied on home remedies and trips to Tijuana when they were ill. Video courtesy of The California Channel

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