Single-payer healthcare bill dies in California Assembly

Lawmakers declined to vote on a high-profile effort to overhaul California’s healthcare system on Monday, putting an end to a proposal that would have guaranteed medical coverage to every resident by levying billions in new taxes.

Assembly Bill 1400 by Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) did not have the necessary votes to move forward ahead of a key deadline Monday. Instead of forcing a vote that could be politically difficult for some of his Democratic colleagues as some supporters of the bill wanted, Kalra opted to let the bill die.

“Despite heavy opposition and substantial misinformation from those that stand to profit from our current healthcare system, we were able to ignite a realistic and achievable path toward single-payer and bring AB 1400 to the floor of the Assembly,” Kalra said in a statement. “However, it became clear that we did not have the votes necessary for passage and I decided the best course of action is to not put AB 1400 for a vote today.”

AB 1400 would have created a publicly financed healthcare system called CalCare, which could cost between $314 billion and $391 billion in state and federal funds, according to a legislative analysis. But supporters that have championed the issue, including the California Nurses Assn., said Californians would ultimately have saved money when compared to paying for insurance, co-pays and deductibles.

“Study after study has shown that a single-payer system like CalCare is the only solution that would provide universal, comprehensive benefits to all while also reducing overall healthcare spending,” said Carmen Comsti of the California Nurses Assn., which sponsored the bill. “We would get more, cover everyone and pay less.”

It’s the second time in the past five years that a single-payer bill has died in the Assembly. In 2017, a Senate bill to create a single-payer plan was shelved by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), who called that proposal “woefully incomplete.” Rendon’s decision at the time angered the nurses’ union, which said failing to put it up for a vote was “a cowardly act.”

Kalra’s bill has faced immense odds since he first introduced it last year. For nearly a year, AB 1400 failed to gain traction while it lacked details on how it would be financed. This year, Kalra introduced a second bill, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 11, which would have used $163 billion in proposed new taxes to pay for the single-payer plan under AB 1400.

That helped the bill win support this month in the Assembly’s health and appropriations committees. Lawmakers faced intense lobbying on the bill leading up to Monday’s critical vote. The Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party threatened to withhold endorsements from any Assembly member that did not vote for AB 1400.

Critics of the single-payer plan have been flooding Californians’ cellphones and social media with ads criticizing the bill, saying it would “cause massive disruption to Californians’ healthcare at the worst possible time” and urging people to call lawmakers to tell them to reject AB 1400.

Opponents say even with its massive price tag, the proposal would still come up short of paying for the healthcare system overhaul. Exactly how much the proposal would have cost if it ultimately became law is still unknown. The Assembly recently approved a Republican request for the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office to review the cost and effects of the legislation.

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. A Chamber spokesman said the legislation would “ruin quality healthcare delivery” and “create the largest tax increase in state history.”

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