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Want universal health care for California? Be patient, says committee co-chair




People rally in favor of single-payer healthcare for all Californians as the US Senate prepares to vote on the Senate GOP health care bill, outside the office of California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, June 27, 2017 in South Gate, California.
People rally in favor of single-payer healthcare for all Californians as the US Senate prepares to vote on the Senate GOP health care bill, outside the office of California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, June 27, 2017 in South Gate, California.
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

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California Assemblyman Anthony Rendon faced an intense backlash in June when he shelved a bill called the "Healthy California Act." SB 562, as it's also known, was a plan to make universal, single-payer health care a reality in the state. 

Rendon says he received death threats for his decision. So when he called for new hearings on the future of health care late last month, supporters of a single-payer plan took notice. Rendon has now tasked a committee in the state assembly to find a way to make health care for all a reality. 

Co-chairing that committee is Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), who tells Take Two the committee will examine several aspects of health care in California, but it's unlikely that they'll return in January with a new piece of legislation. 

Here are some highlights from his interview with A Martinez:

It wasn't explicitly stated by Speaker Rendon that the committee hearings would result in a replacement for SB 562. That has a lot of single-payer proponents bothered. When the legislature reconvenes, what can voters expect to have from the committee? 

Hopefully, well, my plan is there will be a lot more information. What's important in this discussion is that I don't believe all the stakeholders have been at the table.

We have a proposal by a group that wants something their way on their timeline. We haven't had a diverse discussion with all the potential stakeholders involved, so one of the things we want to do is bring as many stakeholders to the conversation to gather as much information as we can. Is it going to lead to a new bill or the fleshing out of this bill? It's hard to say, but it's really important that people understand this is a sincere effort. This is not a sham. 

You mention certain stakeholders. Which stakeholders, specifically, haven't been involved yet? 

I don't believe that we've heard from organized medicine. I don't think we've heard from hospitals. I don't think we've heard from employers. We certainly haven't gotten input from the federal government. We haven't had input from our state agencies. I think there is a lot of information we need to gather so we can make a decision and move in policy directions that make sense. 

Let me just ask you straight-out: Is this committee going to bring something the legislature will vote on this session, starting in January?

The purpose of a select committee is not to bring a bill forward. The purpose of a select committee is to gather information and gather ideas.

There may be a variety of authors who decide, based on the information that we pull together, to introduce different bills. I'm not going to commit to saying the committee itself will absolutely introduce the bill because I don't know that that will happen.

I think this is a lengthy discussion. I think if we're going to do this right, we're going to need to spend the time to get this right. 

How would you respond to a group like the Nurses Association who want action on something like this?

I would say that look, our health care system in the United States started evolving in the late 1940s. That's 70 years. I think to expect that in seven or eight months that we can completely reinvent health care in California is pretty ambitious and I just don't think it's possible.

I am not about stalling; I believe that we can get there. I really, really do. But I want to do it collaboratively, and I just hope that people will be patient. This is a big, big issue and it's going to take time.

California's relationship with the current administration is fraught. Is it even possible to achieve health care for all without some support from Washington? 

I don't believe it is. I really don't. Regardless of what number we talk about, we rely heavily on money from Washington DC. It's approaching $200 billion. It will require waivers and a variety of different exceptions from the federal government to get the resources here. If we don't get that, I don't really see how we move forward, other than a large tax on residents here. 

Press the blue play button above to hear what Assemblyman Wood thinks about the political chances of new health care legislation.