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Single-payer health care bill passes first committee stop in California

The plan requires everyone in California to pay into the system through increased taxes.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Single-payer health care in California? It’s a big idea, and it’s one step closer to making it to the governor’s desk. It passed the Assembly Health Committee by a vote of 11-3 Tuesday night.

It would put everyone in California under the same health insurer: the state. People would pay for it through increased taxes whether they want to or not. 

Technically, people could pay for additional health care on top of that, but the assemblymember who authored the bill said people are probably not going to want to or need to. 

Democratic Asm. Ash Kalra first introduced AB 1400 last year. 

“Under CalCare, you would have comprehensive care even beyond what a typical insurance covers, in the sense that it does have dental and vision, full pharmaceutical access without co-pays and deductibles. It also has long-term care," Kalra said. 

He argues it will essentially get rid of private insurers in the state. 

“Could there still be insurance companies or supplemental care for things that aren't essential, discretionary items? Absolutely," he said. "In foreign countries that do have single-payer health care, there are private plans that also operate, but the reality is that it wouldn't be needed.”

Kalra said the state will be saving money. 

“Most studies estimate you can save at least 10%," he said. "That's tens of billions of dollars by the way in cost to our state”

Republican Asm. Vince Fong is the vice-chair of the budget committee. He said the costs don’t add up. 

“The obvious question with this recent proposal is how much does it cost? And even the proponents don't know," Fong said. "They are refusing to even allow for an independent cost analysis, which is something that I and my colleagues in the legislature have asked for."

He says previous studies have put the cost of a government-run health care system in California at $400 billion a year.

"Just for context, the current budget proposal that the governor issued this week has our budget in California at $286 billion," he said. "So the cost of single-payer government-run health care is more than our entire state budget.”

Kalra said the Republicans are playing games. 

"The bill has been around for almost a year; they could have asked for that months ago," he said. "So this is just gamesmanship. It's a charade...They could have asked for it at any time. I think a big reason why they haven't done it is they know it will show what every other study shows: that a single-payer system will be far less expensive than our current health care system."

The California Medical Association is on board with requesting a cost analysis. The California Nurses Association is ready to go for it. 

“We truly believe that health care is a human right and that everyone deserves health care," CNA President Cathy Kennedy said. "So here in California, we have been talking about this forever, and it's time.”

Kennedy said the state can afford it. 

"Health care corporations are making profits, tons of profits even during this pandemic," she said, "And health care shouldn't be about making a profit. That money should go back into providing care for people, and so we can afford it. We can do this."

California is on a two-year bill cycle. What does that mean? Asm. Fong said because this bill was introduced last year, it only has about one more month to make it through the house before it dies. If it does pass the house, then the Senate will vote on it, then it could go to the governor’s desk. 

The bill is different from the universal health care plan Newsom put in his budget proposal Monday. His doesn’t get rid of private insurers but rather will require the state to pay for all low-income people’s health care costs regardless of immigration status. The single-payer system is a more inclusive version that incorporates everyone in California.

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