Editorials

Universal health care bill was half-baked, and Trumpcare is a disaster. Why the rush?

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, shown here at his swearing-in ceremony, has taken heat for his reasonable decision to shelve California’s incomplete universal health care bill.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, shown here at his swearing-in ceremony, has taken heat for his reasonable decision to shelve California’s incomplete universal health care bill. Associated Press

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon was absolutely correct to reject the aspirational universal health care legislation, and to tell the California Senate, in so many words, to get real.

Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, should have known better than to push for a quick vote on their paper moon of a bill, which purported to quickly fix an issue that is fundamentally life-and-death.

Their Senate Bill 562 holds out the hope of health care for all, but offered no method to pay for a program that would cost $400 billion a year, more than double the state budget signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday.

“It wasn’t even a bill. It was an underdeveloped statement of principles,” Rendon told a Sacramento Bee editorial board member.

For standing up to fellow Democrats, Rendon is weathering unfair attacks by the California Nurses Association, which sponsored the single-payer legislation. On Tuesday, the nurses’ union staged a “die-in” at his district office outside Los Angeles. The union planned more guerrilla theater in Sacramento on Wednesday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the darling of the nurses’ union, put out a statement criticizing Rendon. And yet Sanders has failed to persuade Congress to adopt universal health care, even in years when Democrats were in charge. His home state of Vermont abandoned universal health care because of the cost.

All that aside, Rendon did Lara, Atkins and the nurses’ union a favor by sending the legislation back to the state Senate. Assuming their advocacy is more than a campaign platform, Lara and Atkins should use the coming months, if not years, to convene public hearings on the issue, assign top staffers and call on outside experts.

Those experts should not be advocates. They need to take a hard look at the knottiest issues. Skeptics would serve Lara and Atkins and the public well.

In the meantime, Rendon is right that Californians should be doing whatever can be done to preserve and improve Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. Toward that end, Brown and U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein held a press call Tuesday to denounce the U.S. Senate Republicans’ latest attempt to repeal Obamacare.

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that U.S. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s Better Care Reconciliation Act would cause 15 million Americans to lose coverage in 2018, and 22 million people to lose it by 2026.

In a cruel twist, McConnell’s bill would most hurt poor people between the ages of 50 and 64. A 64-year-old with an annual income of $56,800 would pay $20,500 in premiums, as opposed to $6,800 under Obamacare. Because of high premiums and deductibles, “few low-income people would purchase any plan,” the Congressional Budget Office said. The left-leaning Center for American Progress estimated that almost 2.5 million Californians would lose coverage by 2026 under the U.S. Senate Republicans’ bill.

“Millions and millions of people are going to suffer,” Brown said. “That’s a crazy thing for elected representatives to inflict on people.”

Lacking support to pass it, McConnell put off a vote until after the July 4 recess. But Republicans control Washington, and we don’t doubt that Trump, McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan can jam through a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, no matter how ill-considered.

If Trump and Republican House and Senate leaders persuade Republicans to forsake millions of their constituents, California will need to respond. A well thought-out version of Atkins and Lara’s concept might be the answer.

But though we live in an age of tweets and easy promises, health care should not be trifled with. Whatever the solution, whether in Washington or Sacramento, the legislation should not be done in a heated rush.

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