Appropriations Committee Moves Single Payer Toward Floor

After all the drama, controversy and heated debate over legislation to set up a single-payer health care system in years past, last week’s appropriations committee approval of the measure was strikingly brief and uneventful.

Like several other bills up for approval at last week’s hearing, there was no presentation on single payer — only a vote, followed by an eight-word pronouncement from Senate Committee on Appropriations Chair Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego):

“OK,” Kehoe said, “6 to 2, that measure is out.”

And just like that, single payer is headed back to the Senate floor, this time as SB 810 by Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). It moved through committees in both houses last year, so it only needed to pass Senate appropriations to go to the floor.

Twice, single payer has been approved by the full Legislature, and twice it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).

This time, Leno said, things will be different because health care now takes up such a sizable chunk of the state’s spending.

“Health care premiums in the last few years have grown five times faster than our economy,” Leno said in a release. “Consequently, fewer employers are providing health benefits to their employees, and those workers who are fortunate enough to receive coverage are paying higher premiums for diminishing services.”

The idea of SB 810 is to create universal coverage in a state-run private-public partnership. Leno calls it “Medicare for all.”

Critics have cited a number of objections, including the difficulty of trying to implement national health care reform at the same time as converting to an entirely new universal-coverage system.

“We are opposed to a government-run health care system,” Marti Fisher of the California Chamber of Commerce said in an earlier hearing. “And the Legislature is already busy with health care reform, following along with the rest of the nation in implementing those provisions. We should not be derailed by implementing a new system.”

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