By Derek Fleming, Courthouse News
SACRAMENTO – California’s push toward universal health care received a shot in the arm Thursday after languishing on life support since June, with the state Assembly leader promising to bring the bill up for hearings next month.
In June, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, decided not to advance a bill aimed at providing state-paid health care coverage for all Californians.
On Thursday, Rendon cited bids to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s landmark health care act by President Donald Trump and Republicans in Washington as the reason for his about-face.
“The fight to protect the Affordable Care Act helped galvanize the principle that health care is a basic right,” Rendon said in a statement. “There are several different approaches being proposed, including Medicare for all, single payer, hybrid systems and ACA expansion. I have called for these hearings to determine what approach best gets us there – what gets us to ‘yes’ when it comes to health care for all.”
Rendon has tapped Assemblymen Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, and Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, to lead the effort. Both doctors, Arambula and Wood co-chair the Select Committee on Health Care Delivery Systems and Universal Coverage.
The committee will not be looking at the merits of universal health coverage, but will instead seek solutions to funding, identify federal and constitutional obstacles and determine how best to provide care to the nation’s most populous state.
“It’s not a question of debating whether we move toward health care for all – it’s a matter of choosing how best and how soon,” Rendon said. “The committee’s work will help fill the void of due diligence that should have been done on Senate Bill 562 or any universal health care bill that so profoundly affects so many Californians.”
Among California’s progressives, universal health care remains a highly popular concept. But funding such a massive undertaking stymied the bill’s advancement: the Legislative Analyst’s Office pegged the cost of universal health care at $400 billion annually, a staggering figure more than double the entire state budget.
State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, a joint author of SB 562, said he looks forward to working with assembly members to shape the future of health care in California.
“Americans’ health care is under continual assault by Congress, and millions of Californians are still paying too much for health care that doesn’t cover enough. Now is the time for California to lead on health care,” Lara said in a statement.
“I am glad the Assembly is joining the conversation about universal health care that started in the Senate this year with the passage of the Healthy California Act, Senate Bill 562,” Lara said. “The select committee is an important step to a bicameral discussion about health care for all and to getting SB 562 on track for debate in the Assembly.”
The Legislature will begin an interim study recess following adjournment Sept. 15. Rendon said he is confident that Arambula and Wood will come back to the Capitol after the New Year equipped with a functional, practical plan that will garner support in both houses and across the aisles.
“It is my direction that these hearings be focused and thorough, and produce real results,” Rendon said. “In addition to the oaths they took as legislators, Dr. Wood and Dr. Arambula have also taken oaths to protect and defend patients’ health, so I know they will take a vigorous approach to this challenge, and the committee will begin the heavy lifting needed to advance serious proposals for health care for all.”