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Imagining A Single-Payer Health System In California

With the crumbling of the latest GOP plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, many Americans seem more willing to discuss what a single-payer system might look like and whether it is desirable — or even possible.

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U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently introduced a Medicare-for-All Act, which would gradually expand the government-financed system to the general population while eliminating private insurance companies and consumer cost sharing, such as copays and deductibles. Although the bill is backed by 16 Democratic senators, including California’s Kamala Harris, observers predict it has no chance of moving through a Republican-controlled Congress.

California lawmakers took a fresh look at single-payer health care this year through SB562, a proposal to create one government-financed program that covers all Californians. That bill stalled, but debate will continue this fall in legislative hearings. A grass-roots campaign is underway to put a plan to finance such a system before voters.

“It is time to have those discussions [as] to how we actually get everyone covered, and get them covered in a way that they can afford to pay for care when they need it,” said Jen Flory, policy advocate with Western Center on Law & Poverty, a group that supported the single-payer bill in concept.

But Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, expressed concerns about the enormous costs of building such as system, saying “the numbers matter.” He said a government-financed health care system for all cannot be allowed to endanger funding for other public services — like education and public safety — which ensure a high quality of life in California.

Flory and Lapsley were among the consumer advocates and industry players who last week sat side by side in Sacramento to debate the merits and challenges of universal health care coverage, whether through a single payer or other means.

The discussion occurred during a conference in Sacramento last week called “Health Care In Crisis,” organized by Capitol Weekly and the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy. California Healthline/Kaiser Health News Sacramento correspondent Pauline Bartolone moderated the discussion.

Other panelists included Dr. Paul Song, co-chair of the Campaign for a Healthy California, a coalition that formed to support California’s single-payer effort, and Mark Sektnan, president of the Association of California Insurance Companies.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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