SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In any other year, Gov. Gavin Newsom's proposal to add an estimated 700,000 immigrants without legal status to the state's health care program for low-income residents would be a monumental lift. On Tuesday, it was painted as the "status quo" as legislators considered a separate proposal with a much broader reach.
A group of Democratic lawmakers are pushing a massive restructuring of the state's health care system under legislation that would guarantee medical coverage for every resident in the state by enacting billions in new taxes to create a single-payer system. Assembly Bill 1400 passed its first hurdle during a contentious Assembly Health Committee hearing on Tuesday evening, moving forward legislation that has so far overshadowed Newsom's proposal, but also faces significant bipartisan challenges moving forward.
The bill's author, Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), said piecemeal reforms have only made it more clear that the state's health care system needs to be upended. Kalra said Newsom's effort is a positive step and shows the state's compassion by ensuring no one is excluded from the health care system based on immigration status.
"However, do not mistake compassion for acceptance of a status quo that ultimately is fiscally unsustainable, unreasonably inefficient and morally indefensible," Kalra said Tuesday.
The cost of the single-payer proposal remains a heavy obstacle for supporters — the $163 billion in proposed new taxes would not cover the price of implementing a health care system overhaul, according to a bill analysis. Exactly how much the proposal would cost if made law is still unknown. The UC Labor Center estimates that creating a single-payer system could cost the state $222 billion a year, without additional cost savings from streamlined services.
Opponents say too many questions remain about how the single-payer plan, which would be known as CalCare, would work. The California Chamber of Commerce added the proposal to its annual "job killer" list that highlights laws corporate interests say will hurt employment and the economy, with a spokesman adding that Kalra's legislation would "ruin quality health care delivery" and "create the largest tax increase in state history."
"This would significantly underfund a single-payer system, which means all of us would actually pay more taxes than currently proposed," said Preston Young of the California Chamber of Commerce.
Republican Assemblyman Heath Flora (R-Ripon) said Kalra's effort appeared to be nothing more than a ploy for attention.
"People have spent their entire lives paying into a system and then we are going to rip the carpet out from under them for a program that's not even funded," Flora said.
At Tuesday's hearing, some who said they support a single-payer system or see a desperate need for overhauling health care also criticized Kalra, who they said failed to consider changes to his bill since it was first introduced last year.