Single payer plan advances in Assembly

June 30, 2010

By Daniel Weintraub

The California Legislature is moving on two fronts when it comes to health care reform. On a bipartisan basis, lawmakers have passed two bills to create a high-risk pool that will expand access to health insurance for people who have been denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions. At the same time, though, the Democrats who control the Legislature are pushing forward with doomed legislation that would create a Canadian-style single payer health plan.

The Assembly Health Committee was the latest hurdle cleared by SB 810, by Sen. Mark Leno. The bill would do away with health insurance as we know it and gather the estimated $200 billion Californians spend now in premiums, co-pays and deductibles, plus government subsidies, and put all of that money into one health care plan managed by the government. A state commission would define benefits and any cost-sharing and then negotiate with doctors, hospitals, labs and drug companies to provide the care and services for everyone.

“All other industrialized nations spend far less on health care than we do, and in return their residents receive higher quality care,” Leno said in a statement released by his office after the committee action on his bill Tuesday. “California families and employers can no longer afford to foolishly waste 30 cents of every dollar on a health care system that focuses on minimizing claims and increasing profits instead of maximizing the health of the people.”

The single payer bill is supported by a broad coalition of labor, consumer and health advocacy groups. But it faces insurmountable obstacles, at least this year. For one thing, the taxes needed to finance it cannot be passed without Republican votes, and the bill has no Republican supporters. And even the shell of the program, without the money, faces a certain veto from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after the Democrats send it to his desk.

But Leno, who took up this cause after Sen. Sheila Kuehl left the Legislature, has said that supporters of single payer have a long-range strategy, and debating and passing SB 810 is a way to educate Californians about the issue. Eventually, they hope to have a Democratic governor who will sign the bill, and then put the financing plan on the ballot. Or they will put the entire plan on the ballot.

In the meantime, California begins its implementation of the federal health reform, which promises to eventually expand access to insurance and care but will never be universal.

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