Sacramento, Calif. ( Associated Press) — California lawmakers will begin a debate Tuesday on whether to create the nation’s first universal health care system, a key measure of whether the resolution has the support to pass it this year.
Progressives have tried for years to create a government-funded universal health care system to replace one dependent on private insurance. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the 1994 voting initiative, which would have created a universal health care system. Another attempt passed the state Senate in 2017, but died in the state legislature, with no funding plan attached to it.
This year, Democrats have filed two bills in the state legislature: one that would create a universal health care system and set its rules, another that would spell out how to pay for everything by raising taxes on some wealthy individuals and large businesses.
The first bill is the one that comes up for hearing on Tuesday before the Assembly Health Committee, where Santa Rosa Democrat Chair Jim Wood has already said he will vote for it. Since the resolution was introduced last year, it has to be passed by the state assembly by the end of January to have a chance to become law this year.
Universal health care has been debated in the United States for decades, most recently during the campaign of US Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. But it has never come close to being passed in Congress. State lawmakers in Vermont have tried and failed to implement their own universal health care system. And the New York State Legislature has considered a similar plan.
Supporters in California are adopting a divide and conquer strategy this year. He hopes that separating the idea of a universal health care system from the question of paying for it will give him a better chance of getting the bills and, ultimately, voters approved.
“We can debate policy. If someone says, ‘How are we going to pay for this?’ Well, now those are two separate issues,” said Assembly member Ash Kalra, a Democrat from San Jose and author of both resolutions. “If we can agree on a policy and get that policy passed, it is becomes more real. Then you are actually telling voters what they are voting for. It’s really important.”
However, opponents are determined to keep the two issues together.
“On the health committee, I look forward to a strong discussion on the effects of social therapy in California, including: How much tax will increase on the middle class,” said Assembly Republican Leader Mary Waldron.
The plan for universal health care requires at least a two-thirds vote in both houses of the state legislature. After that, voters must approve it in a statewide election. Democrats have a sizable majority, but it will be difficult to get them all to support the tax increases needed to pay for the plan. The California Taxpayers Association, which opposes the plan, says it would raise taxes on businesses and individuals by $163 billion per year.