The bill that advanced on Tuesday would create the universal health care system and set its rules. It cleared the Assembly Health Committee on an 11-3 vote. Republicans voted no, arguing the bill would cost too much and pay doctors and nurses less, potentially worsening a shortage of health care workers. To pay for everything, Democrats have introduced a separate bill that would raise taxes on businesses and individuals by about $163 billion per year, according to an analysis by the California Taxpayers Association, which opposes the bill. Voters would have to approve the tax hikes. Assembly member Ash Kalra, a Democrat from San Jose and the author of the proposal, said Tuesday it could be 2024 before that proposal made it to the ballot. “If government-run health care becomes law, millions of Californians will flee the state — either to avoid the $163 billion per year in new taxes or to escape the lengthy waits for care that will become the norm,” Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron said.
Ady Barkan, a 38-year-old married father of two, was diagnosed with ALS six years ago and now is mostly paralyzed. He testified at Tuesday’s hearing with the help of a computerized voice that spoke as he typed using technology that followed the movement of his eyes. Barkan said he has battled his private insurance carrier to get treatment he needed, including suing them to get a ventilator that keeps him alive. Still, Democrats hailed Tuesday’s vote for jumpstarting one of their long-stalled policy goals and signaling they won’t back away from a fight even during an election year. In an hourslong hearing, some lawmakers and advocates assailed a health care industry they say has benefited corporate interests at the expense of consumers.
“Even good health insurance, which I have, does not cover the cost of the care I need to survive,” he said. But the proposal that cleared a legislative committee in the state Assembly is still a long way from becoming law. It faces strong opposition from powerful business interests who say it would cost too much. And even if it does become law, voters would have to approve a massive income tax increase to pay for it — a vote that might not happen until 2024.
“Completely abolishing the current system in face of unrelenting pandemic by annually taxing Californians hundreds of billions of dollars is not the solution,” said Preston Young, a policy advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce. Kalra, the San Jose Democrat and the author of the proposal, said he knew opponents would focus on how much the plan would cost. But he said that argument distracts from the fact that Californians are already paying “the highest health tax in the world.” Business groups, led by the California Chamber of Commerce, said the government-run health care system would be so expensive that the tax increase still wouldn’t be enough to pay for everything. In 2018, California’s total health care expenditures totaled $399.2 billion, accounting for 13.2% of the state’s gross domestic product, according to an analysis by the Healthy California for All Commission.
“This bill has been sold to my community that it is going to change thigs now and that it is free. And neither one of those things are true,” she said. Even some Democrats who voted for the bill had sharp criticism for the proposal. Assembly member Autumn Burke, a Democrat from Inglewood, said advancing the bill without a funding source made a mockery of the process.
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