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Single-Payer Bill Passes First Vote In California Legislature

Ben Adler/Capital Public Radio
Supporters of creating a single-payer health care system lined up to speak at the California Senate Health Committee hearing on Wednesday, April 26, 2017.

California lawmakers have given initial backing to the progressive Holy Grail of a statewide single-payer health care system. But Wednesday's Senate committee vote was largely symbolic, as even supporters acknowledge the proposal needs more work.

Hundreds of single-payer supporters – organized by the California Nurses Assocation – lined the long Capitol hallway outside the three-hour hearing.

Retired Marin County physical therapist Ruthanne Ranz-Appell says she believes everyone is entitled to health care.

“(Single-payer is) the most efficient, economical system to supply health care for everyone without paying administrators that peel off a lot of the money that we’re spending out right now,” she says.

The bill drew opposition from the health care industry and business groups.

“We agree with much of what has been said here today, and we believe there is common ground,“ says Teresa Stark with Kaiser Permanente, which is both a health care provider and insurer. “But this bill, unfortunately, is divisive and counter-productive and actually could cause harm.”

Lawmakers in both parties raised concerns over the bill’s use of a “fee-for-services” health care system.

“We’ve been moving away from fee-for-services, because they’re extremely expensive. It’s a broken system,“ says Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Fountain Valley). “I hope that this single-payer plan doesn’t get us back into that system.”

Even the Democrats who voted for the measure raised concerns over how it would work.

Backers are still working to identify a cost estimate and a funding source, and promised at least some answers by the bill's next hearing.

The bill's author, Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), acknowledged his proposal is a work in progress.

“We want to make sure we get this right,“ Lara says. “It’s going to take us time. But we also feel that sense of urgency, given such turmoil that our current health care system is in under this new administration.”

With Gov. Jerry Brown on record as skeptical about a single-payer system, and many advocacy groups more focused on preserving the Affordable Care Act, it seems unlikely that this bill will become law anytime soon.

Copyright 2017 Capital Public Radio