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Single Payer Keeps Moving Forward

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
When you boil it down, single payer means the state becomes THE health insurance company.  
Proponents of the single payer system say it is cheaper and provides better results than the private health care model. And at the state Capitol Tuesday, those proponents filled a committee room and spilled out into the hallways for a chance to voice that support.
After 45 minutes of testimony, most members of the Assembly Health committee seemed genuinely impressed by the turn out.
"It shows your commitment to this issue," Chairman Bill Monning, a central coast Democrat, told the group.
And while it's popular among progressives, San Francisco Democratic Senator Mark Leno says he expects Governor Schwarzenegger will issue a veto, if Leno's proposal passes. That's because the governor has done it twice before with similar measures since 2006.
"But we're moving forward because it continues the debate," Leno says. "Keep in mind without the bill, and without this hearing, your listeners wouldn't be learning about single paying health care reform."
Assemblywoman Audra Strickland, a Thousand Oaks Republican, challenged Leno repeatedly as he presented the bill. On the plan's lax residency requirements, she asked Leno if the single payer system would bring indigent patients from other states looking for better benefits. On the plan's funding system, Strickland asked Leno if it would drive away businesses.
"I don't understand it," Leno finally replied. "On one hand you're saying this bill is going to bring everybody to the state… and on the other hand you're saying it's going to drive everyone away."
Shortly after that exchange, and some chuckles from Leno supporters, Strickland walked out without casting a vote.
Leno says indigent patients that move to California will be covered by Medi-Cal, and that the state would in turn be reimbursed by the federal government.  The Senator also restated his belief that jobs would come to California so business owners and corporations could cut down on health care overhead.
"It killed [General Motors]…" Leno told the committee. "This makes business in the state competitive."
Leno says the bill would be paid for by taking the 200 billion dollars Californians spend on privatized health and shifting it to the single payer system. However, other analysts have put that cost much higher if the state was to cover it's 37 million residents.
In the past, Schwarzenegger has said he can not endorse socialized medicine. Business groups also oppose the plan, saying the taxes needed to pay for the program would be too high.
Meanwhile, the recent passage of the federal health care law is giving opponents of the bill some political cover. Marti Fisher lobbies for the California Chamber. They oppose the bill, and instead of arguing the merits and cost projections of single payer, Fisher can point to the new federal law, and say, 'Hey Congress took a lot time to pass that measure.'
"A lot of experts put in their opinions, and they went through a great deal of analysis" Fisher continues. "We should give them a chance to see if this works out."
Fisher says California shouldn't go it alone on health care.  She also opposes new taxes it would create to pay for the program.
While business groups oppose it, the education lobby came out strongly in favor of Leno's proposal. The L.A. School District, for example, estimates it would have another 600 dollars per student, if the district could dump retirees' health care costs. A spokeswoman for the district told the committee that 18 percent of the annual budget is spent on health care.
Leno says it's just going to get worse.
"By 2025, it's possible more than 25% of our [Gross Domestic Product] will be spent on health care," Leno told Capital Public Radio after the hearing. "That's why we have to continue this debate."
The bill was passed out of the Assembly Committee on Health, and now goes on to the Appropriations Committee.
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