A sweeping measure that would establish government-run universal healthcare in California cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday as scores of supporters crammed into the Capitol to advocate for a single-payer system.
The Senate Health Committee approved the measure on a 5-2 vote after a nearly three-hour hearing, but Democrats and Republicans alike signaled unease with the major question still unanswered in the legislation: how the program would be paid for.
The bill, SB 562, would establish a publicly run healthcare plan that would cover everyone living in California, including those without legal immigration status. The proposal would drastically reduce the role of insurance companies: The state would pay for all medical expenses, including inpatient, outpatient, emergency services, dental, vision, mental health and nursing home care.
The measure says the program would be funded by “broad-based revenue,” but does not specify where that money would come from.
“How can we go forward with this bill without a fiscal analysis, a detailed financing plan?” asked Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove).
Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), a coauthor of the bill, said a detailed financial study would be completed in May, before the bill is heard in the Appropriations Committee, a key fiscal panel.
“Sen. [Toni] Atkins and I are not just going to do this on a whim,” Lara said, referring to his coauthor, a Democrat from San Diego. “We want to make sure it’s sustainable.”
With the significant unanswered question of funding still looming, lawmakers turned their focus to the implementation of such a system, with ideas including the use of electronic health records and securing waivers from the federal government to administer Medicare and Medi-Cal funds.
“Because I ask questions about how we operationalize the bill, it should not call into question my commitment to healthcare for all,” Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) said, emphasizing that her inquiries were on “the issue of how we get it done.”