Single-payer health care clears big hurdle in California

The California State Capitol building in Sacramento, CA. Image via iStock

In summary

A California single payer healthcare bill advanced out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, but a bigger vote could be next week.


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Get ready for a showdown in Sacramento.

On Thursday, a key Assembly committee approved a controversial proposal to create a state-funded single-payer health care system — a move that could put many Democrats, and ultimately Gov. Gavin Newsom, in a tough bind ahead of this year’s elections.

The bill is now slated to go before the entire Assembly for a vote — and it must pass by Jan. 31 in order to stay alive. That possibility was foreclosed in 2017, the last time a single-payer proposal came up for consideration, when Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon shelved the measure without a hearing, protecting Democrats from a politically sensitive vote on a progressive priority with no plan to pay for it.

But, as CalMatters political reporter Alexei Koseff notes, lawmakers who have gladly dodged the issue for five years will now have to take a position — and there’s a price tag attached. A legislative analysis released Thursday estimated single-payer could cost California between $314 billion and $391 billion annually, financed by a series of tax hikes on businesses, workers and high earners. Single-payer supporters, however, say that sum is smaller than what Californians pay for private insurance.

The single-payer proposal is divided between two bills — one that would create a program called California Guaranteed Health Care for All and one that would fund it via increased taxes. Lawmakers are scheduled to vote on the former — which was amended Thursday to clarify that its ability to actually go into effect is “contingent on a statute to create revenue mechanisms” and a report analyzing its fiscal viability.

But those contingencies don’t make the political calculus any easier — particularly for moderate Democrats caught between the party’s progressive base and an ardent opposition campaign led by the powerful California Chamber of Commerce and health insurers.

Nor does it make things easier for Newsom, who, despite campaigning on single-payer health care in 2018, said last week he hasn’t read Democrats’ proposal to create such a system. Instead, he touted the perks of his own plan, which would expand access to Medi-Cal, the state’s health care program for low-income Californians, to all eligible residents regardless of immigration status.

  • Newsom: “Ours is funded. Ours is budgeted.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 6,997,710 confirmed cases (+1.3% from previous day) and 77,521 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 68,065,502 vaccine doses, and 72.4% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.


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Other stories you should know

1. Newsom talks tough on rail theft

Shredded boxes and packages and debris are strewn along at a section of the Union Pacific train tracks in downtown Los Angeles Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. Thieves have been raiding cargo containers aboard trains nearing downtown Los Angeles for months, leaving the tracks blanketed with discarded packages. Photo by Ringo H.W. Chiu, AP Photo
Shredded boxes, packages and debris strewn along the Union Pacific train tracks in Los Angeles on Jan. 14, 2022. Photo by Ringo H.W. Chiu, AP Photo

Newsom also ramped up his tough-on-crime rhetoric in a Thursday visit to the Union Pacific railroad in Los Angeles, which became nationally infamous last week after a viral tweet thread illuminated rampant theft along the tracks. “I see what everybody’s seeing, asking myself: ‘What the hell is going on?'” Newsom said. “I mean, they look like a Third World country, these images.” It was unusually harsh language for the governor, who moments later slammed “organized gangs of people” for stealing items before backtracking: “Forgive me for saying gangs … that’s not (intended as) a pejorative … they’re organized groups of folks that move from site to site.”

  • Newsom: “If I’m intense about this, it’s because it gets my blood boiling. … We need to arrest and hold people accountable that are a part of these organized efforts.”

The governor said Caltrans will help Union Pacific clean up the blighted tracks and the California Highway Patrol will continue working with local law enforcement to make arrests. (Although Union Pacific has its own private police force, it slashed its ranks due to budgetary cuts, leaving as few as half a dozen officers in the region ranging from Yuma, Arizona, to Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times reports.) The company also said Thursday it’s dealing with significant staffing issues due to workers quarantining and getting the vaccine, impacting operating performance.

Newsom also said he is beginning to “see a little bit of light at the end of that tunnel” of the omicron wave and is “already preparing an endemic strategy” for dealing with COVID-19, about which he plans to reveal more in “the next number of weeks.”

2. Lawmakers zero in on abortion rights

Sen. Nancy Skinner in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on January 15, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Sen. Nancy Skinner, vice chairperson of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, on Jan. 15, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

From CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher: California took a step toward its goal of becoming a national “haven” for abortion access on Thursday, when the all-Democratic Legislative Women’s Caucus introduced a package of bills to make abortions cheaper and more accessible and to shield patients and doctors from anti-abortion laws in other states. The proposals — including compensating Medi-Cal and other programs for abortions provided to out-of-state patients, eliminating most out-of-pocket expenses for many reproductive health care services, creating a central web portal with resources and information for those seeking abortions, and increasing funding for clinics — mirror policy recommendations in a December report from the California Future of Abortion Council, which Newsom launched in response to Texas passing one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws forbidding the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy. The conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court has so far allowed the law to stand — including in another ruling Thursday — and is poised to issue a ruling this summer that could overturn Roe vs. Wade and strike down the 49-year-old constitutional right to an abortion. 

The most direct rejoinder to the Lone Star State came from San Ramon Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, who introduced a bill that would bar California courts from enforcing the Texas law or any like it.

  • Bauer-Kahan: “If California is truly a reproductive freedom state, we must be as proactive in protecting abortion rights as Texas is in attacking them.”
  • California Planned Parenthood CEO Jodi Hicks: California must “become a great light and a haven for millions of people across the country.”

For more on abortion legislation in California and across the country, join me on Jan. 26 at 10 a.m., where I’ll be speaking on a panel hosted by The 19th, a nonprofit newsroom covering gender, politics and policy. Register here.

3. COVID’s impacts on workers, economy

Roxanna Torres (right) serves a patron at Baker & Commons in Berkeley onJan.19, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento/CalMatters
Roxanna Torres, right, serves a patron at Baker & Commons in Berkeley on Jan.19, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

COVID and the economy continue to collide in California even as the omicron wave shows signs of subsiding: More than 67,500 residents filed new unemployment claims for the week ending Jan. 15, the federal government reported Thursday — an increase of nearly 6,100 from the week before and the state’s highest total in three months. And nearly a million Californians reported staying home from work during the first two weeks of January to recover from COVID or care for someone with the virus, according to Census data released Wednesday — a whopping 420% increase from the prior month. Meanwhile, as Newsom and state lawmakers rush to negotiate a deal in the next few weeks to reinstate extra paid sick leave for COVID-19, the Oakland teachers union warned the school district Wednesday night that its members will strike unless a deal on an updated COVID safety plan is reached by Friday.

For more:

4. UC chancellors get pay raises

A students walk through Sproul Plaza, normally bustling with student organization tables, on March 12, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A students walk through Sproul Plaza on UC Berkeley’s campus on March 12, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

From CalMatters higher-education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn: Chancellors of the 10 University of California campuses will get pay raises ranging from 6% to 28% after the UC Board of Regents approved the wage bumps Thursday. The new salaries, which will range from $521,000 for UC Merced’s chancellor to $640,000 for UCLA’s top executive, are meant to lift UC executive compensation closer to the national average, board members said. The move follows a Regents analysis showing that UC chancellors on average make $300,000 less than the average pay for top executives of other leading public universities. Even with the raises, UC chancellor pay will still trail the national average for top public universities.

  • Regent Chair Cecilia Estolano: “This is a critical proposal to remain competitive in the future and to recognize our current chancellors as leaders of some of the top-ranked campuses in the nation. It’s essential that we appropriately compensate them.”

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: It’s amusing — and a little pathetic — to see California’s liberal politicians slide to the right in response to an upsurge in crime.

Don’t let California reverse its deal with solar customers: The California Public Utilities Commission’s proposed solar switcheroo will make residents less likely to take part in future clean energy programs and erode our already fragile trust in government, argues Jenn Engstrom of the California Public Interest Research Group.

Fast food bill would harm small businesses: California’s FAST Recovery Act would wreak havoc on one of the most successful startup business models: franchising, writes Matt Haller, president and CEO of the International Franchise Association.


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Other things worth your time

Kamala Harris to announce wildfire money in Friday visit to California. // Los Angeles Times

California drought: State officials plan to deliver more water than the 0% first expected. // San Francisco Chronicle

PG&E probation ends as judge calls it a ‘continuing menace.’ // Bloomberg

Leaked emails show former top Garcetti staffer calling Black Lives Matter ‘annoying.’ // Vice

Gloria wants more leeway to force mentally ill San Diegans off the street. // Voice of San Diego

Newsom is fighting a vaccine mandate for prison staff — at the expense of prisoners. // HuffPost

COVID-19 test kit shortage hits California child care. // Los Angeles Times

‘Frustrating’ delays in city funding affect over 200 arts nonprofits. // KQED

COVID outbreak: Oakland homeless shelter forced to close. // Mercury News

UCSD will resume putting up to 3 students in dorm rooms to deal with housing shortage. // San Diego Union-Tribune

CSU adds caste to its anti-discrimination policy. // Los Angeles Times

Modesto life expectancy among the lowest in California. // Modesto Bee

New Jersey man indicted in EDD fraud case using 78 fake IDs. // Sacramento Bee

California gun store closures in early days of pandemic violated citizens’ rights, court rules. // San Francisco Chronicle

How California’s city councils got more diverse. // Washington Post

A bitter feud centers on California source of Arrowhead bottled water. // Los Angeles Times

Burbank fears bullet train will compromise airport safety and water, but rail authority OKs plan. // Los Angeles Times

Facing toxic lead contamination, a California barrio continues its long struggle for justice. // Grist

Big decision on California rooftop solar apparently delayed. // KPBS

Humane Society petitions to stop bear hunting in California. // Sacramento Bee

Silicon Valley’s new obsession: science funding. // The Atlantic


See you Monday.

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Single-payer health care clears big hurdle in California