Calif. Lawmakers Want to Abolish Private Health Insurance Market

But the bill has a long way to go
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 12, 2022 1:28 AM CST
California Democrats Take First Step Toward Universal Health Care
Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, discusses his bill that would pay for the universal health care bill, during a news conference at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

(Newser) – California Democrats on Tuesday took their first step toward abolishing the private health insurance market in the nation’s most populous state and replacing it with a government-run plan that they promised would never deny anyone the care they need. But the proposal that cleared a legislative committee in the state Assembly is still a long way from becoming law, the AP reports. It faces strong opposition from powerful business interests who say it would cost too much. And even if it does become law, voters would have to approve a massive income tax increase to pay for it—a vote that might not happen until 2024. Still, Democrats hailed Tuesday's vote for jumpstarting one of their long-stalled policy goals and signaling they won't back away from a fight even during an election year.

In an hourslong hearing, some lawmakers and advocates assailed a health care industry they say has benefited corporate interests at the expense of consumers. Ady Barkan, a 38-year-old married father of two, was diagnosed with ALS six years ago and now is mostly paralyzed. He testified at Tuesday's hearing with the help of a computerized voice that spoke as he typed using technology that followed the movement of his eyes. Barkan said he has battled his private insurance carrier to get treatment he needed, including suing them to get a ventilator that keeps him alive. “Even good health insurance, which I have, does not cover the cost of the care I need to survive,” he said.

To pay for everything, Democrats have introduced a separate bill that would raise taxes on businesses and individuals by about $163 billion per year, according to an analysis by the California Taxpayers Association, which opposes the bill. Voters would have to approve the tax hikes. The bill that advanced on Tuesday would create the universal health care system and set its rules. It cleared the Assembly Health Committee on an 11-3 vote. Republicans voted no, arguing the bill would cost too much and pay doctors and nurses less, potentially worsening a shortage of health care workers. Even some Democrats who voted for the bill had sharp criticism for the proposal. Assembly member Autumn Burke, a Democrat from Inglewood, said advancing the bill without a funding source made a mockery of the process. (More on the single payer system here.)

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