With federal health care reform on life support, California Democrats on Thursday resurrected a $200 billion-a-year state-based single-payer health insurance bill.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 6-3 on party lines and without comment to lift from suspense the dead file, Senate Bill 810 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.
It calls for merging the state's public and private health insurance systems into a single California-run agency. All Californians would be eligible for insurance coverage with the poor receiving subsidized benefits.
The bill does not spell out how California would pay for a program that would cost more than twice the state's $85 billion general fund. That would be left up to an appointed panel and ultimately, voters.
"What my Republican colleagues don't want you to know is that there is absolutely no cost to the general fund from this bill," Leno said. "The bill states very clearly that there will be no implementation until there is a determination of sufficient independent funding."
The bill emerged on the same day Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said she lacked the votes to move the U.S. Senate's health care overhaul bill through the House of Representatives.
With Tuesday's election of GOP Sen.-elect Scott Brown in Massachusetts, Democrats no longer hold a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate, and Brown has broadly criticized the sweeping health reform proposal.
But Republicans seized on the reappearance of the oft-debated single-payer proposal as another sign that Democrats are out of touch with voters.
"It is incredible that once again, some of the more liberal Democrats are tone deaf to what's going on in this nation," said state Sen. George Runner, R-Antelope Valley. "This (California) bill is even more extreme than what's being talked about in Washington."
California GOP Chairman Ron Nehring said, "The Democrats' 'Massachusetts Meltdown' on Tuesday proved that their idea of health care 'reform' is a loser."
Democrats will find no support in the governor's office, either.
"Any elected official that 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," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola. "The governor continues to oppose any single-payer government-run health care system."
SB810 is nearly identical to former Sen. Sheila Kuehl's 2008 single-payer bill that Schwarzenegger vetoed.
Specifically, the bill would create the California Healthcare Agency — led by a commissioner appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate — which would negotiate with health care providers, set fees and pay claims.
No private health insurance companies that provide the same benefits as the state agency could offer direct coverage in California.
Initially, a Premium Commission would evaluate the startup and operating costs of the new agency and recommend how to pay for it. The financing plan would go before voters for ratification, Leno said.
Funds would most likely come from a mix, as they do today, of state and federal health care dollars coupled with workers and employer contributions. Proponents also say savings would be achieved through the elimination of multiple layers of insurance administrative costs.
Leno said he believes most California residents would pay less for their health insurance under a single-payer system and it would begin to turn around the rapidly rising cost of medical care.
Voting in favor of moving forward SB810 were Democratic Sens. Leno; Christine Kehoe, of San Diego; Ellen Corbett, of San Leandro; Carol Liu, of Pasadena; Curren Price, of Los Angeles; and Leland Yee, of San Francisco.
In opposition were GOP Sens. Dave Cox, of Fair Oaks; Jeff Denham, of Merced; and Mimi Walters, of Tustin.
Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773 or www.ibabuzz.com/politics.