Single-Payer Health Care Revived? California Lawmakers to Hold Hearing this Fall

After the swift rise and sudden crash of California’s ambitious single-payer legislation, complete with melodramatic fallout, universal health care is back — not on the floor, but on the table.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-South Gate — who in June famously blocked Senate Bill 562 from advancing in his chamber, calling the proposal “woefully incomplete” — announced on Thursday that a special committee would hold hearings on universal health care this fall, after the legislative session ends on Sept. 15.

“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.”

Leading the Assembly Select Committee on Health Care Delivery Systems and Universal Coverage will be Dr. Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, and Dr. Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg. In addition to a single-payer model, Rendon said, they will discuss “hybrid systems” and Affordable Care Act expansion.

SB 562, introduced by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and sponsored by the California Nurses Association, would have replaced private health insurance with a single, statewide plan for everyone. The state Senate passed the bill in early June, but the legislation didn’t include key details, such as how it would be funded.

Such a plan would almost certainly be paid for through new taxes, though advocates argue that the average Californian would come out ahead, as they would no longer need to pay premiums, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. A study commissioned by the nurses found that such a system could save tens of billions annually — despite covering more people — by eliminating advertising and profits of private insurance companies and giving the state greater bargaining power over the cost of prescription drugs.

In June, after Rendon announced that he supported the idea of single-payer health care but that the bill would not be moving through the Assembly, the fallout was dramatic. The lawmaker said he and his family received death threats on social media.

The nurses’ union, which has vilified Rendon for his decision, reacted sharply to Thursday’s announcement of the upcoming hearings.

“California does not need a Select Committee to hold hearings to develop a plan for achieving universal healthcare in California,” the association said in a statement. “… A Select Committee is not actual legislation. It is not a policy committee. There is nothing a Select Committee can do that could not have been done by first the Assembly Health Committee, then the Assembly Appropriations Committee could have done on SB 562 – if the goal was, in fact `serious proposals for healthcare for all.’”

Lara, who is running for insurance commissioner, said the select committee was key to “getting SB 562 back on track for debate in the Assembly.”

“The conversations I have had with my friend Speaker Anthony Rendon show he is committed to healthcare for all,” Lara said, “and the Select Committee is a tangible product of that commitment.”

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