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Participants in the Medicare for All Rally in Los Angeles California on February 4, 2017. Organizers called for a single-payer system for Medicare. (Photo by Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Single-payer healthcare advocates march in a Medicare for All rally in Los Angeles on February 4, 2017. (Photo: Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images) 

With California Single-Payer Bill Shelved, Advocates Call on Newsom to Take Lead on Medicare for All

"The fastest, most direct path to Medicare for All has always gone through the governor," said one single-payer campaigner.

Brett Wilkins

As California's latest attempt to enact single-payer universal healthcare was placed on hold this week, progressive campaigners vowed to carry on the fight, while pressing embattled Gov. Gavin Newsom to fulfill his campaign promise to implement a Medicare for All-style system in the nation's most populous state.  

"It's not a coincidence that Bernie Sanders won the California Democratic primary with this as a leading issue, and those voters are crucial to the governor's prospects in the recall."
—Michael Lighty,
Healthy California Now

On Wednesday evening, state Assembly Member Ash Kalra (D-27) announced he would withdraw Assembly Bill 1400—the California Guaranteed Healthcare for All Act (CalCare)—from consideration this year so that lawmakers could work out how to fund the ambitious measure before possibly reviving it next year. 

A.B. 1400—introduced in February by Kalra and Assembly Members Alex Lee (D-25) and Miguel Santiago (D-53), and sponsored by the California Nurses Association (CNA)—would establish a single-payer healthcare system for all Californians, regardless of income, immigration, or any other status, while expanding healthcare coverage to include nearly three million uninsured Golden State residents. It would also offer generous benefits including dental visits, prescription drug coverage, and long-term care. 

Upon its introduction, Kalra said the bill "represents the belief that healthcare is truly a human right" and "will set us on a real path towards a single-payer system and affirms the policy that would save lives, decrease suffering, and improve public health in California."

Around 70% of Californians—and a similar percentage of people across the United States—support Medicare for All. A.B. 1400 enjoys the backing of grassroots progressive groups including Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), RootsAction, the new Daybreak PAC, as well as influential figures including single-payer campaigner Ady Barkan, National Nurses United executive director Bonnie Castillo, and actor and activist Rosario Dawson

Undaunted by the shelving of A.B. 1400, the single-payer advocacy group Healthy California Now called Kalra's move "a golden opportunity for single-payer advocates to unite behind a faster path to Medicare for All, led by Gov. Gavin Newsom." 

While seemingly a setback, Healthy California Now organizer Michael Lighty said the tabling of A.B. 1400 could actually accelerate the push for California single-payer healthcare.

"In order to do to a Medicare for All-type system in any state requires federal and legislative approval," Lighty told Common Dreams. "The governor is the linchpin. He can initiate discussions with the federal government that will lead to adoption of single-payer plan, and he can motivate the legislature to act. The shelving of A.B. 1400 is actually the fastest way to jump-start this process."

Newsom—a Democrat who oversaw the implementation of the city's Healthy San Francisco program for uninsured residents when he was the city's mayor—campaigned for governor claiming a "firm and absolute commitment" to implementing universal healthcare in California. 

"We will absolutely get it done," he pledged in September 2017, just months after moderate Democrats including Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-63) joined with their corporate donors and GOP colleagues to scupper a previous single-payer bill, even as they paid lip service to universal care. 

With the darkening cloud of a recall campaign looming ominously over Newsom's every move, the governor is treading cautiously. Progressives—who have thrown their support behind Newsom in the recall fight—say he must do more to deserve their backing. 

"Our support isn't free," warned Lee, the A.B. 1400 co-author, in a Politico interview earlier this month. "We should hold accountable our elected officials who say they support healthcare for all." 

Lee added that Newsom has a "duty to energize his progressive base." 

Lighty told Common Dreams that "the recall effort provides a political rationale for the governor to lead on single-payer because the progressive voters he needs to win the recall are motivated by this issue."

"It's not a coincidence that Bernie Sanders won the California Democratic primary with this as a leading issue, and those voters are crucial to the governor's prospects in the recall," he added, referring to the independent U.S. senator from Vermont's 2020 presidential run.

Progressive campaigners vowed to keep pushing for single-payer and to keep holding Newsom's feet to the fire. On Monday, activists led by the DSA will head to Sacramento, where they will stage a die-in at the state Capitol. 

The Sacramento die-in will follow car rallies across the Golden State last week, where demonstrators called on state lawmakers to support CalCare.

Speaking at one of the rallies, UNITE HERE Local 11 co-president Ada Briceno said that the coronavirus pandemic "demonstrates the need for California law, more than ever, to provide healthcare for millions who lost health coverage [through] job losses in the state." 

LA Progressive reports Briceno was joined by CNA activist Stephanie Roberson, who said that "how organized we are as a movement throughout the state will determine our success."

"We nurses see patients unable to afford lifesaving care and private companies refuse to pay," said Roberson. "We need to prioritize nurses and patients over profits."  

"The fastest, most direct path to Medicare for All has always gone through the governor," Healthy California Now president Cindy Young said on Friday. "Now is the time for advocates to unite and tell Gov. Newsom to lead the way on Medicare for All." 

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