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Repeal & Replace Watch

Blaming ‘Threat’ Of GOP Health Bill, California Hits Pause On Single Payer

A demonstrator holds a sign at a health care reform rally at San Francisco City Hall. (Steve Rhodes/Flickr)

Single-payer health care, a longtime goal of progressive Democrats and the nurses’ union, is dead for now. No further legislative action will be taken in 2017.

A bill pushing a state-based single-payer system was brought to a halt late Friday when Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, declined to move it forward. The bill will not get a hearing by the Assembly Rules Committee before the July 14 deadline, though it could be taken up again in 2018. It passed the California Senate on June 1.

“Single payer” generally refers to health care systems in which the government pays doctors and other health providers using tax revenues, bypassing the use of private insurance companies as middlemen.

In some systems, the doctors work directly for the government, but the California bill proposes a variant in which doctors and hospitals remain private entities and establish contracts with the state to provide care.

Rendon described himself as a longtime supporter of a single-payer system, but said the current bill was “woefully incomplete” and doesn’t address the “realities” of both the Trump administration and voters.

“Yesterday, Republicans in the U.S. Senate released a cynical plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, posing a real and immediate threat to millions of Californians who only have health coverage because of the ACA,” Rendon said in a statement.

“Preparing California to meet this threat must be the top health care priority for the Legislature, Governor Brown, and organizations that advocate for increasing access to health care.”

In legislative slang, the “Healthy California Act” (SB 562) was a “shell bill.” It described a long list of covered services and claimed residents would not have to pay any premiums or copays. Based on the raw outline, two studies tried to estimate the total cost: One came up with $400 billion a year, another said $330 billion.

“This action does not mean SB 562 is dead,” Rendon said later in the statement. He encouraged single-payer supporters in the Senate to use the time to “fill the holes” in the bill, and provide more information about financing, delivery of care and cost controls.

The two authors of the bill were disappointed by the move, but vowed to keep fighting for universal coverage in California.

State senators Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego, released a joint statement.

“Continuing the push for universal healthcare has never been more critical, with Congress possibly days from voting on one of the cruelest bills in our nation’s history, which will lead to millions of the poorest Americans losing insurance, soaring costs for older and sicker people, and terrible budget choices for our state.”

“California has the chance to lead our nation toward healthcare for all, and we will not turn our backs on this matter of life or death for families.”

This story is part of a partnership that includes KQED, NPR and Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Capitol Desk Cost and Quality Insurance The Health Law