SACRAMENTO (AP) — California lawmakers will begin debating Tuesday about creating the nation’s first universal health care system, a key yardstick for determining whether the proposal has the support to pass this year.
Progressives have spent years trying to create a government-funded universal health care system to replace the system that relies on private insurance. Voters overwhelmingly rejected a 1994 ballot initiative that would have created a universal health care system. Another attempt passed the state Senate in 2017, but it died in the state assembly without a funding plan attached.
This year, in state assembly, Democrats introduced two bills: one that would create the universal health care system and set the rules, the other would dictate how everything should be paid for by raising taxes on some wealthier individuals and larger corporations.
The first bill is the one to be heard Tuesday before the Public Health Commission, where Chairman Jim Wood, a Democrat from Santa Rosa, has already said he will vote for it. Since the proposal was submitted last year, it must pass the state assembly at the end of January to stand a chance of becoming law this year.
Universal health care has been debated in the United States for decades, most recently during the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries during the campaign of US Senator Bernie Sanders. But it never came close to passing in Congress. State legislators in Vermont have tried and failed to implement their own universal health care system. And the New York state legislature has considered a similar plan.
Supporters in California are adopting a divide-and-conquer strategy this year. They hope that separating the idea of a universal health care system from how to pay for it will give them a better chance of getting the bills passed and ultimately getting voters to approve it.
“We can discuss the policy. If someone says, “How are we going to pay for that?” Well, those are two different issues now,” said Councilman Ash Kalra, a Democrat from San Jose and the author of both proposals. “If we can agree on a policy and get that policy adopted, then it becomes more real. Then you actually tell the voters what they are voting for. That’s really important.”
However, opponents are determined to keep the two issues together.
“On the Health Committee, I look forward to a vigorous discussion about the effects of socialized medicine in California, including: how much taxes will rise for the middle class,” said meeting Republican leader Marie Waldron.
The universal health care plan requires at least a two-thirds vote in both houses of the state legislature. After that, voters must approve it in a national election. Democrats have a large majority, but it will be difficult to get them all to support the tax increases needed to pay for the plan. The California Taxpayers Association, which opposes the plan, says it would raise taxes on businesses and individuals by $163 billion a year.