California Lawmakers Kick Off Health Care Hearings

As California health care officials brace themselves for changes to the Affordable Care Act by President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress, state lawmakers today and Tuesday will hold a hearing examining the gaps in coverage and financing of California’s current system.

Among the topics expected to be front and center is single-payer health care and Senate Bill 562, introduced earlier this year by Senators Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Toni Atkins, D-San Diego. That controversial proposal would replace California’s private health insurance market with a single, government-run plan with no premiums or deductibles for nearly 40 million Californians.

Though the bill passed the Senate on June 1, it has been put on hold by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon because it does not include details on who would pay the $400 billion price tag for switching to a single payer system — in particular, the $200 billion gap after existing state and federal health care dollars are exhausted.

Already, the two leading Democrats running for governor are sharply divided over how to achieve universal health care. Their differences were highlighted Sunday at a union-sponsored forum in Anaheim.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom supports a government-run, single-payer system much like that outlined by SB 562, while former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called that a “pie in the sky” plan that doesn’t include viable financing methods, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Sunday’s forum, hosted by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, also included Democrati gubernatorial candidates Delaine Eastin, a former state school’s chief, and Treasurer John Chiang.

Chiang said California should take an incremental approach to health care, the Bee reported, while Eastin said single-payer would cost “slightly more” today, but much less in the long run.

This week’s two-day Assembly committee hearing is co-chaired by Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, and Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno.

“This committee is charged with identifying a pathway to healthcare for almost 40 million Californians, a pathway that we can propose to the full Legislature,” Wood, a dentist, said in a statement.

Arambula, a doctor, said he’s seen the challenges many Californians have getting access to good medical care.

“When I decided to run for office, I was convinced we could improve our state’s healthcare system and believe that California can and must do better for its residents,” he said in a statement.

Monday afternoon’s hearing in Sacramento will review California’s current health care systems, including public programs, the individual insurance market, employer-based coverage and safety net programs for the poor. A presentation on current gaps in coverage will also be heard.

Speakers will include Deborah Kelch and Elia Gallardo from the Insure the Uninsured Project, Edwin Park from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Ken Jacobs and Laura Lucia from the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

Tuesday’s hearing, which starts at 2 p.m., will review universal coverage systems in other countries. Speakers include Robin Osborn and Sara Collins from The Commonwealth Fund.

Future hearings are planned for later this year and early next year.

“The contrast between the US Congress and California could not be clearer,’’ Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, said in a statement issued Monday morning.

“While Congress considers proposals to cut and cap key health care programs, California is correctly comparing options to further expand and secure coverage for all.”

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