Backers of single-payer health care cheered Jan. 19 as California's SB 810, the California Universal Health Care Act, passed from the Senate Appropriations Committee onto the Senate floor.
The measure, by state Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would provide all state residents with comprehensive health care, including medical, dental, vision, hospitalization and prescription drug benefits while letting patients choose their own doctors and hospitals.
Care would be funded by pooling together funds now spent on health care by government, employers and individuals. The plan would be administered by a single state health agency with local branches. All funds earmarked for health care would go into a single state health trust fund. Single payer cuts out private insurance companies, with their high administrative costs.
Supporters say Californians now spend about $200 billion per year on health care, and point to studies showing the state would save about $8 billion in the first year under the plan.
Nearly 7 million out of the state's more than 37 million people were uninsured in 2010. A survey of employers found that while fewer employers offered health benefits, health insurance plan premiums had risen 153.5 percent since 2002.
"California is being overrun by out-of-control health care costs, which have a significant impact on families, businesses and the state budget," Leno said. "Health care premiums in the last few years have grown five times faster than our economy."
By guaranteeing "universal access for all Californians," he said, "our single payer plan will reduce the health care burdens that are hurting families and our state's economy."
DeAnn McEwen, a registered nurse and co-president of the California Nurses Association, called SB 810 "the only proposed solution to the continuing patient care crisis that guarantees health care for all Californians and controls costs while eliminating the denials of care and restrictions of provider choice imposed by private insurance companies."
CNA is a co-sponsor of SB 810, which has support from a broad range of health care, education, labor, retirees' women's and political organizations.
In a letter opposing the bill, Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Marti Fisher said the chamber "fundamentally" disagrees that government systems would be more efficient and less costly than private businesses.
The bill has a long history. In 2004, then-state Senator Sheila Kuehl introduced single payer as SB 840. The legislature passed the bill in 2006 and again in 2008, but Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it both times. After Kuehl was termed out of office, Sen. Leno reintroduced it in 2009 and again last year.
Other states are also working toward single payer systems. Last May, Vermont's legislature passed, and Gov. Peter Shumlin signed, a measure outlining plans to cover all 620,000 state residents, to be phased in over the next several years.
Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and other states have all seen single payer measures introduced into their legislatures in recent years.
On the national level, Representative John Conyers, D-Mich., introduced HR 676 in 2003 and has reintroduced it into every session of Congress since.
Stock photo. Marilyn Bechtel/PW