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Michael Hiltzik: California confronts the complexities of creating a single-payer health care system

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

That would leave about $106 billion a year, as of 2017, needed to replace the employer and private spending that would be eliminated. Pollin suggests doing so through an increase of 2.3 percent in the sales tax and the addition of a 2.3 percent gross receipts tax on businesses (or a 3.3 percent payroll tax, shared by employers and workers), instead of the gross receipts tax. Each levy would include exemptions for small businesses and low-income families.

Anyone with experience in California tax politics knows this is a potential brick wall. Taxes of this magnitude will generate intense opposition, despite the nurses' argument that relief from premiums and other charges means that families and business will come out ahead.

But that's not the only obstacle. A workaround would have to be found for California Constitution requirements that a portion of tax revenues be devoted to education. A California universal coverage plan would require "a high degree of collaboration between the federal government and the state," Juliette Cubanski of the Kaiser Family Foundation told the committee Monday. Waivers from Medicare and Medicaid rules would have to be secured from the Department of Health and Human Services; redirecting Medicare funds to the state might require congressional approval.

A federal law that preempts state regulations of employee health benefits might limit how much California could do to force employer plans into a state system.

Obtaining the legal waivers needed from the federal government to give the state access to federal funds would take two to three years "with a friendly administration," Wood said. "We don't have a friendly administration now."

Advocates of change are understandably impatient in the face of rising healthcare costs and the federal government's hostility to reform. Shocked gasps went up from the hearing audience Wednesday when Wood casually remarked, "It is absolutely imperative that we slow this down." Startled by the reaction, he quickly specified that he meant "slow the costs down."

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The desire to pursue the goal of universal coverage, whether through a single-payer model or a hybrid, plainly remains strong in Sacramento, in the face of the vacuum created by the Republican Congress and Trump White House.

As Betsy Estudillo, a senior policy manager for the California Immigrant Policy Center put it at Wednesday's hearing, "The nation needs California's leadership, now more than ever."

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