Villaraigosa Challenges Newsom to One-on-One Debate Over Single-Payer Healthcare

Antonio Villaraigosa on Monday challenged his top rival in the governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, to a one-on-one debate over the viability of a state-sponsored single-payer healthcare system in California.

The issue has divided the Democratic field of candidates. Newsom and former state schools chief Delaine Eastin have expressed strong support for the proposal, while Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang have expressed doubt that the state can afford it.

“Enough with the slogans — it’s time to show real leadership and have a serious in-depth discussion,” Villaraigosa said in a statement sent to the news media Monday.

The debate challenge by the former two-term mayor of Los Angeles comes after Villaraigosa wrote an opinion article explaining his stance on the issue that was published in newspapers this past weekend.

Notably, Villaraigosa’s challenge only extends to Newsom and none of the other Democrats or Republicans in the race, likely an attempt to cast the contest as a two-candidate race as the June 5 primary approaches. Recent polls peg Newsom as the front-runner with Villaraigosa trailing closely behind.

“It’s laughable that a guy who, at the the last 8 debates and countless forums, has trashed single payer and ridiculed its supporters NOW claims he wants to have a conversation about health care policy,” Newsom compaign spokesman Nathan Click said in text message.

The California single-payer proposal, SB 562, came before the state Legislature in 2017. It would cover all Californians and dramatically reshape medical coverage in the state. The bill was shelved, in part because of an estimated price tag of up to $400 billion a year.

Villaraigosa has accused Newsom of dodging questions about how the state would pay for the healthcare system, saying he was selling “snake oil” about the plan.

He said Newsom underestimated the complexities in creating a new system that replaces Medicare, Medi-Cal and insurance plans for government and private-sector employees. He also cautioned that the plan would need approvals from a Trump administration that’s proven to be hostile to California.

Newsom has accused Villaraigosa and Chiang of being “defeatist Democrats,” criticizing them for saying they support the concept of universal healthcare but adding that they lack the political courage and foresight to make it a reality. He said San Francisco enacted a universal health care program while he was mayor, proving that it would be done.

Newsom said most of the money needed to support the state healthcare system is already being spent on the plans that it would replace — government-run coverage and exchanges and private healthcare plans.

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