On Thursday, the California State Senate voted 23-14 to pass SB 562, moving one step closer toward creating a single-payer healthcare system in California.
If made law, SB 562 — titled the Healthy California Act, or HCA — would create the Healthy California program, providing universal healthcare coverage throughout the state.
Currently 2.7 million California residents have no health insurance, according to Michael Soller, a spokesperson for Ricardo Lara, a state senator and SB 562 co-author. Soller, a former Daily Californian arts editor, said the HCA would allow for more choice among healthcare providers, hospitals and clinics for state residents.
“There (have) been polls by different statewide entities that show that Californians have strong support for universal healthcare,” said State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who voted in favor of the HCA. “It is not a new concept or a concept that hasn’t been tried — we’re the only major country in the world that doesn’t have single-payer healthcare.”
Soller said that as the HCA moves to the state Assembly, the Senate is working on developing a financing plan for the bill. A full implementation of the proposed single-payer healthcare program would cost the state about $400 billion annually, according to Ben Johnson, a fiscal and policy analyst for the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
The Policy and Economic Research Institute, or PERI, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst estimated the overall annual cost of the bill at $331 billion. The PERI study states that California will have to provide $106 billion in new revenue to fund the HCA, and proposes a new state gross receipts tax and state sales tax to finance it. Soller said the Senate is “not committed” to the ideas presented in the study, but added that they represent a starting point for funding ideas.
Skinner said if the bill is approved, the Senate hopes to request waivers from the federal government to incorporate money currently spent on Medicaid and Medicare into the HCA instead.
For the remaining cost, Skinner said the state would likely implement “some sort of fee or tax” which has not yet been identified in the bill, but added that the fees and taxes needed to fund the HCA is “already money that we are paying” in private insurance plans or employer-based healthcare. She added the voters would likely have to approve the revenues being used to fund the HCA.
Johnson affirmed that while the HCA would increase tax burdens, he expected individuals currently being paid with employer-based health benefits to be compensated with higher incomes under the HCA.
“In terms of covering all Californians with insurance coverage, single-payer has a lot of attractive features — it will certainly simplify administrative processes in people obtaining coverage,” Stephen Shortell, a campus professor and dean emeritus of the campus’s School of Public Health, said. “On the other hand, it is poorly written in regards to payment to providers and the actual delivery of care.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Michael Soller was a co-author of SB 562. In fact, Ricardo Lara is a co-author of SB 562.