A high-profile effort to establish a single-payer healthcare system in California sputtered Friday when Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) decided to shelve the proposal.
Rendon announced late Friday afternoon that the bill, Senate Bill 562 by state Sens. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), would not advance to a policy hearing in his house, making it all but certain the measure will not be acted upon this year.
“SB 562 was sent to the Assembly woefully incomplete,” Rendon said in a statement. “Even senators who voted for SB 562 noted there are potentially fatal flaws in the bill, including the fact it does not address many serious issues, such as financing, delivery of care, cost controls, or the realities of needed action by the Trump administration and voters to make SB 562 a genuine piece of legislation.”
Under the measure, California would have paid the healthcare costs for all residents, eliminating premiums, copays and deductibles that are common fixtures in the current healthcare system.
Several key details were unresolved in the measure — most significantly how to pay for it. The program, which carried an estimated price tag of $330 billion to $400 billion, would have required new taxes to pay for it, but no sources of tax revenue were specified in the legislation.
Lara and Atkins said in a statement they were “disappointed that the robust debate about healthcare for all that started in the California Senate will not continue in the Assembly this year.”
Rendon took pains to note that his action does not kill the bill entirely: Because it is the first year of a two-year session, it could be revived next year.
“The Senate can use that time to fill the holes in SB 562 and pass and send to the Assembly workable legislation that addresses financing, delivery of care, and cost control,” he said.
But the move is nonetheless a major setback for legislation that has electrified the Democratic Party’s progressive flank. Advocates led by the California Nurses Assn. and activists energized by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential run have rallied to support the measure, even disrupting Rendon’s address at the state party convention last month to clamor attention for the bill.
The nurses’ union flayed Rendon for his decision to shelve the bill, calling the move “a cowardly act.”
“The people of California are counting on the Legislature to protect them now, not sometime next year, and as polls have shown Californians support this proposal by a wide majority,” said Deborah Burger, co-president of the labor group. “A solution to this healthcare emergency could be at hand; Speaker Rendon is standing in opposition.”
The effort faced a steep uphill climb from the start. Gov. Jerry Brown signaled he was wary of the program’s high price tag. And the proposal would have required clearing a number of hurdles even if it became law, including approval by voters and the blessing of the Trump administration to repurpose federal healthcare funds.
Although the Senate approved the measure earlier this month on a 23-14 vote, some Democrats who voted in favor of the measure expressed reservations about supporting the bill in its current form.
Brown said in a statement Friday that Rendon “made the case that there’s clearly more work to do before anyone is in a position to vote on revamping California’s healthcare system.”
“I recognize the tremendous excitement behind the measure, but basic and fundamental questions remain unanswered,” Brown said.
Republicans, who were universally opposed to the legislation, also agreed with Rendon’s move.
“Speaker Rendon says that SB 562 is ‘woefully incomplete.’ California State Senate Republicans agree,” Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Nigel) said in a statement.
Some Assembly Democrats vowed to continue to press the issue.
“Healthcare is a right, not a privilege. That’s why I’m a co-author of #SB562 and will continue to fight until it is law in California,” Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) said on Twitter.
Privately, many Assembly Democrats said they dreaded having to vote on the bill, fearful of backing a proposal — with no financing behind it or politically risky tax hikes — with an “aye” vote, or alienating their energized base with a “no.”
The push for single-payer healthcare in California is unlikely to disappear completely. Rendon noted that proponents of the system would probably pursue a ballot initiative to win voter approval.
Burger also vowed to continue the effort.
“Thousands of Californians have been in motion for guaranteed healthcare,” she said. “They are not finished.”
Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.
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