California Senate Approves Single-Payer Health Care Bill

Despite a firm veto threat from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California Senate on Thursday passed a measure along party lines to create a $200 billion state-run, single-payer health care system. The bill—SB 810—now heads to the state Assembly for consideration.

The legislation calls for the creation of the California Health System, which would be financed by using a combination of state and federal funds that California already earmarks for health care along with a payroll tax, the amount of which would be decided later.

The Medicare-for-all system would be extended to all California residents and individuals would have the opportunity to purchase private insurance to cover specific types of services not included in the government-run plan.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), closely mirrors what Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) had envisioned when he introduced an amendment last summer that would have allowed individual states to create a single-payer system.

Kucinich’s amendment, however, was quietly stripped from the House version of a health care bill on orders from the White House after the legislation was unveiled last winter.

President Barack Obama and Democrats have seen support for their health care initiatives wane among their most ardent supporters as lawmakers increasingly capitulated to Republicans and conservative Democrats over proposals in early versions of a national health care bill.

Measures that originally called for a government-run heatlh care plan to compete with private insurers, otherwise known as a public option, and extending Medicare benefits to individuals beginning at age 55 are no longer part of the bill currently under consideration by lawmakers in the House and Senate.

In a statement after the legislation cleared the 40-member state Senate, Leno said the “real impetus” behind his proposal “is a growing grassroots movement representing millions of Californians who want a health care system that takes care of their families and is affordable for themselves and employers.”

“Solving health care isn’t about leftwing or rightwing politics – it’s about the future of the middle class,” Leno said. “Our state is being bankrupted by out of control health care costs, and a single-payer universal health care system has been proven to save billions of dollars a year for businesses, families and government.”

Leno said California currently wastes 30 percent of every dollar spent on health care to cover administrative costs, which would be eliminated under his plan. He added that the state already spends $200 billion a year on health care and the single-payer system he proposes would simply use the same funds in a different manner.

Still, many of the details have not yet been worked out, prompting Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) to remark that “single-payer is a long way off.”

A “long way off” is putting it midly. If the bill is approved in the state Assembly, Schwarzenegger has said he would veto it when it hits his desk. The governor has previously vetoed two similar proposals.

Schwarzenegger’s spokeswoman, Rachel Arrezola, claims budget cuts and the state’s $20 billion deficit are the primary reasons the governor intends to veto the bill.

“Any elected official who thinks it’s a good idea to strap the state with tens of billions of dollars from a government-run health care system is clearly not in touch with what voters need and deserve,” Arrezola said.

But Leno noted that the plan “creates no new spending, and in fact, studies show that the state would save $8 billion in the first year under this single-payer health care plan.”