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Nurses march in favor of single-payer healthcare in Sacramento on Wednesday. (Photo: AP)

'The Time is Golden and Now': Single-Payer Bill Advances in California

As Healthy California Act clears first hurdle, advocates say "here's to making it national"

Deirdre Fulton

With close to 1,000 supporters rallying outside, California's Senate Health Committee on Wednesday advanced a single-payer healthcare bill that has been described as a potential "catalyst for the nation."

The Healthy California Act (SB562) would create a universal health system (covering inpatient, outpatient, emergency care, dental, vision, mental health, and nursing home care) for every California resident. Unveiled last month, the bill has the support of National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association, who held a rally at the Sacramento Convention Center Wednesday followed by a march to the state capitol and a presence in the committee room.

"The most important thing today was the breadth and depth of support by the dozens of people lining up to back the bill, representing 250 organizations across the state," said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association. "These are organizers who are going to be with us to make the Healthy California Act the law of the land in California."

Supporters got one step closer to that goal on Wednesday, when the Health Committee approved the bill 5-2 after a nearly three-hour hearing. State Sen. Richard Roth said his office had gotten more than 1,000 calls from constituents on the single-payer plan.

The opposition has also reared its head. Courthouse News Service reported: "Several of the groups that have lined up against SB 562 have made political contributions to current members of the Senate Health Committee, including chair Ed Hernandez (D-Montebello), Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), and Richard Roth (D-Riverside). Each member voted in favor of the bill Wednesday."

Still, according to the Los Angeles Times, "Democrats and Republicans alike signaled unease with the major question still unanswered in the legislation: how the program would be paid for."

But Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara, the bill's co-author, said a detailed financial study would be completed in May, before the bill is heard in the Appropriations Committee—its next stop, having cleared the Health Committee hurdle. Lara chairs that committee.

"With today's vote we are closer to being able to say, once and for all, that healthcare is not a privilege, it's a human right," Lara declared. "Every family, every child, every senior deserves healthcare that costs less and covers more, and California has a chance to lead the rest of the nation toward universal care."

State Sen. Toni G. Atkins, also a Democrat and the bill's other co-author, praised the committee members, saying: "They see clearly that the time is right for us to give all Californians the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they and their families will have access to quality healthcare, no matter who they are, how much money they have, or who's in power in Washington, D.C."

Indeed, LA Times reporter David Lazarus suggested in March that the GOP's attempt to gut the U.S. healthcare system could in fact bode well for single-payer efforts like California's.

As Paul Y. Song, co-chair of the Campaign for a Healthy California and Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) board member, wrote earlier this week, "[t]he fact is that our legislators can no longer turn a blind eye while California remains hostage to a federal government run by a heartless majority who recklessly controls the purse strings in favor of tax cuts for the 1 percent while refusing to view healthcare as a right. As the 6th largest economy, California needs to think boldly and look at what all major industrialized nations do."

"The answer has been there all along," said Song. "But, in order to get a healthcare program for the people, it must come from an unprecedented groundswell by the people. We must hold our elected officials publicly accountable and demand what we are already paying for and readily deserve. The [Affordable Care Act] pointed our state and nation in the right direction, but the time for real universal healthcare is now and the opportunity to do so is golden and now!"

To that end, PNHP announced Wednesday that U.S. Rep. John Conyers' (D-Mich.) Medicare-for-All bill has amassed a record number of House co-sponsors: 104.

Justice Democrats, a group holding the party accountable for its stance on universal healthcare, tweeted: "Congrats to Cali! #SB562 has made it through Senate Health Committee. Here's to making it national."


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