California Senate committee approves single-payer health care bill
National Nurses United

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (PAI) — By a 5-2 party-line vote, the Democratic-dominated California State Senate Appropriations Committee approved a government-run single-payer health care bill that would cover everyone in the state. It’s the first step on what could be a long road to the measure’s passage.

The measure, SB562, the Healthy California Act, is a key cause of the California Nurses Association and its parent union, National Nurses United. The union just released a study – which foes of the legislation are contesting – showing the measure, if it becomes law, would cut state spending on health care by 18 percent.

The study adds SB562 also would raise workers’ incomes by 9 percent annually, through health care spending savings. And more than seven in 10 Californians support single-payer, too, a CNA-NNU-commissioned poll says.

The California legislation is important for two reasons: The state includes one of every eight U.S. residents, and the single-payer drive there runs directly counter to national Republican plans to dismantle the federal Affordable Care Act – but without a replacement.

Trashing the 7-year-old ACA would deprive 23 million people nationwide of health insurance coverage, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says. SB562 would go in exactly the opposite direction.

SB562 “would guarantee full health coverage for all Californians, without the devastating deductibles and co-pays that prompt many to ration needed care,” the union said.

“The study notes 36 percent of all insured Californians, 12 million people, remain underinsured – paying for premiums but often unable to access care due to high out of pocket costs – and another 7.5 percent, 2.7 million Californians, remain fully uninsured, even with improvements under the Affordable Care Act,” the union said. SB562 would fix that.

“What this new study proves is that we can finally achieve the dream of guaranteeing health care for all Californians, without the punishment of crippling out of pocket costs, at far less than what was predicted by those who make enormous profits off the pain and suffering of everyday Californians,” said CNA/NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro.

But CNA/NNU did not get a total win in the state Senate panel’s May 25 session. SB562 establishes a trust fund to pay for Californians’ care, funded by cash from current programs – such as Medicaid and the state’s ACA health exchange—plus money that insurers now get.

However, senators inserted an amendment saying the state single-payer system wouldn’t kick in “until the Secretary of California Health and Human Services gives written notice to the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the Assembly that the Healthy California Trust Fund has the revenues to fund the costs of implementing the act.”

Nevertheless, CNA/NNU hailed the panel’s action, while releasing its study, by health care economists at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, of the measure’s positive impact on workers and their families.

“Significantly, the proposed plan would sharply reduce what middle-income California families now spend out of pocket for health care costs as a share of their income by up to 9 percent,” its statement said. “That amounts to a 9 percent raise for California workers.

“California businesses that currently provide health benefits for employees would also see a decline in their payroll costs by up to 22 percent for small businesses and up to 13 percent for medium size businesses – with the added benefit of a healthier, more productive population,” the union said.

The study proposes paying for SB562, the Healthy California Act, through slight taxes, with a lot of exemptions. But it admits the state would have to kick in some money, too.

“With the savings produced by a single-payer financing system, and the transfer of the 71 percent of taxpayer-funded spending currently by Medicare, Medicaid and taxpayer subsidies to insurers for partial payment private insurance costs for families and households, an additional $106 billion will be needed,” the study says.

Nevertheless, those funds would help replace “the huge burden of what Californians now pay to insurers and other health care corporations in premiums, deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket health care costs, and the social impact that imposes for people who skip needed care due to debilitating cost,” it adds.

“The study proposes achieving that added revenue through two modest taxes, a 2.3 percent on gross business revenue receipts – exempting the first $2 million in receipts to eliminate the cost for small businesses – and a new 2.3 percent sales tax that would exempt all spending on housing, utilities, services, and food at home, to mitigate the impact for low- and moderate-income Californians.”

A state senate summary of the Healthy California Act says a 9-member board of qualified health professionals would run the state’s single-payer system. SB562 “would also provide for participation of health care providers, require care coordination for members, provide for payment for health care services and care coordination, and specify program standards,” the summary says.

Besides CNA/NNU, some 20 other unions – led by the Steelworkers and including the Amalgamated Transit Union—back federal single-payer government-run health care. But that legislation, HR676, has little to no chance in the GOP-run 115th Congress, where the majority is moving in the other direction — that of depriving people of health care coverage.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of the People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C.   Gruenberg has been editor-in-chief of PAI since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for the Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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