When Gavin Newsom campaigns on his support for a California single-payer healthcare system, he’s talking about more than the virtues of universal care. He’s trying to sell himself as a bold visionary.
When Antonio Villariagosa warns of the financial calamity that awaits if the state adopts single payer, he’s trying to send a different message — that he’s a fiscally responsible realist who won’t make promises he can’t keep.
The debate over single payer in California’s race for governor reaches beyond how best to cure the inadequacies of healthcare in the state. It’s a political marker for the top Democratic candidates trying to woo different factions of their divided party, and has emerged as the biggest policy flashpoint in the campaign.
“Single-payer healthcare has become a clear litmus test. If you support it, you’re a pure progressive. If you’re opposed to it, you’re a pragmatist,” UC San Diego political scientist Thad Kousser said. “It’s more of a declaration than a policy promise because this is never going to happen, certainly during the Trump presidency.”
But Newsom has promised to pursue a state-supported single-payer healthcare system if he’s elected in November. And fellow Democratic candidate Delaine Eastin, a former state superintendent of public instruction, also declared herself all-in on the concept. Both say California should lead the way, but have been criticized by their rivals for failing to provide a concrete plan to fund such a program or overcome the many obstacles it would face.
Depending on who becomes the next governor, every Californian’s well being and bank account could potentially undergo a revolutionary change. With the June 5 primary just two months away, Newsom remains the clear front-runner.
“My opponents call it ‘snake oil,'” Newsom said at the California Democratic Party convention in February, a reference to Villaraigosa’s oft-used criticism of the lieutenant governor’s support for the plan. “I call it single payer. It’s about access. It’s about affordability. And it’s about time. If these can’t-do Democrats were in charge, we wouldn’t have had Social Security or Medicare.”
Villaraigosa dismisses Newsom’s campaign promise as a hollow attempt to entice the left. He said the system Newsom supports would require all Californians on Medicare to give it up in favor of a new, unproven state healthcare system — a declaration meant to rile up the 5.6 million residents covered by the popular federal program.
“Newsom calls any attempt to demand details of his $200-billion tax increase and plan to force seniors off of Medicare as ‘defeatist,'” Villaraigosa said recently. “I call refusing to say how you will successfully persuade Californians to more than double their taxes while taking away their Medicare simply deceptive.”