Advocates of the single-payer healthcare proposal which has been steadily advancing through the California legislature were voicing outrage and disappointment on Saturday after Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Democrat, announced he was pulling the bill from further consideration this year.
"If the great state of California has the courage to take on the greed of the insurance companies and the drug companies, the rest of the country will follow. The eyes are on California today." —Sen. Bernie SandersKnown as the Healthy California Act, or SB 562, the measure had already passed the state Senate and was making its way through the lower chamber when Rendon said Friday it was being shelved by the Assembly Rules Committee, which he chairs, "until further notice."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has vocally promoted SB 562 amid a broader call for a national Medicare-for-All system, said he was"extremely disappointed" and called on Rendon to reverse his decision.
"At a time when the United States is the only major country on earth not to guarantee health care for all, and when tens of millions of Americans are uninsured or underinsured because of outrageously high costs, California has the opportunity to lead this nation in a very different health care direction," Sanders said. "If the great state of California has the courage to take on the greed of the insurance companies and the drug companies, the rest of the country will follow. The eyes are on California today."
It is time "go forward," Sanders added. "Allow the Assembly to vote."
The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, a lead sponsor of the bill, was busy on Saturday echoing Sanders' call, urging all California Assembly members to declare their support for SB 562 and arguing it was not too late to oppose Rendon's decision.
Deborah Burger, co-president of the CNA/NNU, said the timing of the move—just a day after Republicans in the U.S. Senate released their disastrous Trumpcare bill—was particularly troubling.
"With daily reminders of millions of patients already priced out of access to care, and subjected to the callous practices and care denials of the insurance industry there could hardly be a more heartless response to the Senate bill than Speaker Rendon’s Friday night announcement," Burger said.
Though she was hardly alone, Roseann DeMoro, CNA/NNU's executive director, made it clear she was disgusted that it was a Democrat behind the decision.
And Speaker Rendon immediately became a target on Saturday, including calls for his ouster:
With support for Medicare for All surging nationwide (as shown by a Pew Research Center survey released Friday), backers of California's single-payer proposal say it is a terrible idea for Democratic lawmakers, either at the state or nation level, to backpedal on bold and popular solutions such as these.
"Nurses and the activists who are so critical to rebuilding the Democratic Party after a decade of massive losses across the country will not be silent in demanding all corporate Democratic officials, including Rendon, become part of the movement to join the community of nations in guaranteeing healthcare for everyone," Burger said.
Meanwhile, the bill's co-authors, Democratic State Sens. Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins, expressed dismay at the decision in the Assembly but said they had no intention of giving up. "We are disappointed that the robust debate about healthcare for all that started in the California Senate will not continue in the Assembly this year," they said in a joint statement. "This issue is not going away, and millions of Californians are counting on their elected leaders to protect the health of their families and communities."
Though Rendon on Friday called the bill "woefully incomplete," economists who have studied the proposal say it could potentially provide universal coverage at a much better cost than the current for-profit model.
As Robert Pollin, co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, wrote this week in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, "Enacting a single-payer system would yield considerable savings overall by lowering administrative costs, controlling the prices of pharmaceuticals and fees for physicians and hospitals, reducing unnecessary treatments and expanding preventive care. We found that Healthy California could ultimately result in savings of about 18%, bringing healthcare spending to about $331 billion, or 8% less than the current $370 billion."
The Healthy California Act, he concluded, "is capable of generating substantial savings for families at most income levels and businesses of most sizes. These savings are in addition to the benefits that the residents of California will gain through universal access to healthcare."
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified State Senator Toni Atkins.