Health

Rendon restarts California single-payer debate, critics unimpressed

Lawmakers will consider plans for universal health care during the legislative break that starts in mid-September.
Lawmakers will consider plans for universal health care during the legislative break that starts in mid-September.
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

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California lawmakers will hold special hearings on universal health care over the legislative break beginning in mid-September, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) announced Thursday. Critics angry at Rendon for temporarily shelving a single-payer bill in June said the move wasn't serious, calling it a "political stunt."

The Assembly Select Committee on Health Care Delivery Systems and Universal Coverage, led by Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) and Dr. James Wood (D-Healdsburg), will hold hearings to hear ideas on how to come up with a plan for universal health coverage, Rendon said.

"The main goal is to start asking the serious questions that weren’t asked in the SB 562 [the single-payer bill] process when it passed through the senate," said Rendon. "Questions about service delivery mechanisms. Questions about cost."

Those are questions the assembly speaker says weren’t answered in the original version of the bill. When he shelved it in June, he called it "woefully incomplete."

Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the bill’s champion in the state Senate, applauded Rendon’s announcement. Representatives from the California Nurses Association, the bill’s sponsor, didn’t share in his celebration.

"Let’s be clear. He subverted the democratic process," Bonnie Castillo, associate executive director of the nurse’s union, said of Rendon. She called Thursday's announcement a "political stunt."

"All of the issues that he raises could have been dealt with had the bill been assigned to the policy committees and the fiscal committees, and that’s how legislation works," she said.

The Nurses Association slammed Rendon after he set the measure aside. One member said his move was a "cowardly act." The group's executive director, RoseAnn DeMoro, posted a graphic on Facebook showing the California grizzly bear stabbed in the back, with "Rendon" written on the knife.

Castillo believes the speaker made the announcement in response to political pressure from single-payer advocates.

While both the senator and the sponsoring organization want to see it return to the state Assembly, Lara sees Rendon’s efforts as a step forward for single-payer health care.

When the state senate passed SB 562 on June 1, detractors and supporters alike called the measure "not fully cooked."

The shelved bill would have created a health system where the state would pay health care providers directly for their care, doing away with most insurance companies. Californians wouldn’t have to pay premiums, deductibles or co-pays.

One analysis showed tens of billions of dollars in health care savings under the plan. California would still have to raise money to cover a whole new health system. Different estimates showed the state would have to raise between $100 billion and $200 billion to pay for the single-payer system the bill aims to create.