Editorials

California Democrats are acting like Republicans on health care

State Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, left, talks with Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. The California Senate last week passed their $400 billion plan for single-payer health care.
State Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, left, talks with Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. The California Senate last week passed their $400 billion plan for single-payer health care. The Associated Press

Democrats and advocates of Obamacare were rightly appalled last month when the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to approve its American Health Care Act before the cost analysis was complete.

“The American people have a right to know the full consequences of Trumpcare before their representatives vote on it,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said last month when Republicans decided to vote on the repeal of Obamacare first and discover the cost later.

A few days after the vote, the Congressional Budget Office issued its analysis showing that 23 million Americans would lose their health care and costs would rise for older, sicker people if the Republicans’ American Health Care Act became law. No wonder House Republicans rushed to pass the bill.

Led by Sens. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, Democrats in the California state Senate didn’t do much better last week.

Lara, Atkins and other backers of the bill promised to continue working on the details. But they should have done the hard policy work before forcing the measure to a vote.

In a rush to differentiate themselves from President Donald Trump and House Republicans, a majority of them voted Thursday for legislation, Senate Bill 562, to create a California-only version of universal health care. They do have an idea of the price tag. A Senate staff analysis estimates the cost at $400 billion a year. That’s more than double the size of California’s $184 billion budget.

But although the cost may be relatively clear, the 23 Democrats voted for a $400 billion piece of legislation that fails to answer the obvious next question: How would the state possibly pay for it?

There are ideas and notions. The California Nurses Association, the main sponsors of the legislation, funded an 84-page report by academics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst that offers suggested taxes. Not surprisingly, the authors concluded that SB 562’s vision for single payer – Healthy California, it’s called – would work out well.

“Our results show how Healthy California can promote both lower costs and greater equity in the provision of health care in California, for both families and businesses of all sizes,” the report says.

No matter how reputable the authors may be, California should not plunge into a single-payer health care system based on an analysis funded by the legislation’s promoter.

Just as House Republicans approved their health care measure knowing the Senate would rework it, California Senate Democrats understand SB 562 must go to the Assembly, back to the Senate, get the governor’s signature, and go on the ballot for a statewide vote.

Lara, Atkins and other backers of the bill promised to continue working on the details. But that’s not how serious legislation ought to get done. They should have done the hard policy work before forcing the measure to a vote.

The lone Democrat who voted against it, Sen. Steven Glazer of Orinda, and the three Democrats who abstained – Richard Pan of Sacramento, Ben Hueso of San Diego and Richard Roth of Riverside – deserve some recognition for standing up to the influential nurses union, which long has supported universal health care.

Details matter, as Pan, a pediatrician, said on the Senate floor. And, as Glazer said, the Affordable Care Act works in California, providing millions of people with health insurance.

Rather than pass a platitude and call it a solution to health care, the 23 Democrats who voted for SB 562 and the groups that support the concept embodied would do better to use their energy fighting Republican efforts to gut Obamacare.

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