Root Canal For Single-Payer Health Bill

JAN. 26, 2012


Despite warnings that tooth decay in children can lead to a life in prison, the latest attempt at a single-payer health care bill in California failed to pass the Senate Thursday.

Surprising many supporters, SB 810, authored by San Francisco Democratic Sen. Mark Leno, didn’t get enough votes even from his own party to pass the “Medicare for all” bill.

Perhaps the projected $250 billion annual cost of the government-run healthcare system weighed heavily on the minds of lawmakers.

Democrats have lauded SB 810 as providing “Medicare for all” in California. But it failed on a 19-15 vote, with four Democrats abstaining, and one voting against it. No Republicans voted in favor of it.

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed SB 810 out of the committee on a party-line vote of 6-2. The committee estimated the cost of a single-payer healthcare system in the state to be as high as $250 billion annually.

Sponsored by the California Nurses Association and the California School Employees Association, the bill would cover a government-run healthcare system for all 37 million California residents.

A New Healthcare Agency

In all of the floor debate between Republican and Democratic Senators, not once was it mentioned that the bill would establish an entirely new state agency. “This bill would establish the California Healthcare System to be administered by the newly created California Healthcare Agency under the control of a Healthcare Commissioner appointed by the Governor and subject to confirmation by the Senate,” the bill’s language reads.

Described as a public-private partnership, Leno said the proposal would make sure that every Californian has a primary care provider. “It’s not socialized medicine. What changes is who pays for it.”

“12 million Californians went without some type of health care last year,” Leno said. “500,000 children missed school last year due to tooth decay. This is criminal.” Leno said that missing school leads to dropping out of school, no diploma, no job and eventually prison.

“The author mentioned kids with tooth decay and then all of a sudden they’re not making it in life,” Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, said. “It’s almost like that cable commercial where if you don’t buy cable, you’ll end up with a grandson with a spiked dog collar.”

“If you want the compassion of the IRS and the efficiency of the DMV running your healthcare, then this bill is for you. SB 810 doubles the size of state government,” Strickland added.

According to Strickland, the Department of Finance opposes it. The LAO has warned against implementing statewide single-payer healthcare. “SB 810 promises health care for everyone, but it’s more like Medi-Cal for everyone,” Strickland said, comparing it to the state’s government assistance healthcare system.

Another Dental Analogy

“Medicare for all extends to every human being in California. Our prisons are filled with people who couldn’t succeed in school because of dental pain, because they couldn’t hear or see,” said Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, using the same analogy that a lack of health care leads to prison.

Hancock said that nurses and doctors support SB 810, but warned, “the insurance company mill literally tortures them – this is the most important topic we can address.”

Hostile Business Climate

Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, said that he talks to frustrated doctors who currently can’t get Medi-Cal to reimburse them. “California is becoming more of an island of hostile practices. We can’t afford to lose more employers in this hostile business environment,” said LaMalfa.

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said the debate was only about whether every Californian ought to have access to health care.

“We are living in an era of limits,” said Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo. “I can’t imagine the pressure on education if this $250 billion cost competes with the $30 billion for education.”

In a letter sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee last week about SB 810, the California Taxpayers Association wrote, “The Legislative Analyst’s Office opined in a 2008 report that payroll taxes for employers and employees would need to be 4 percent higher than they are now for single-payer costs and revenues to balance. The necessary increase in taxes would discourage business growth, hurt investments and chase jobs away from this state.”

This is not the first single-payer healthcare bill for California. However, all previous attempts have either failed to pass the Legislature, or were vetoed, most recently by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Introduced in February 2011, Tuesday is the deadline for passage of SB 810.

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