Bay Area lawmaker predicts new battle for single-payer health care next year

The powerful nurses’ union says it ‘chose to just ditch the patients’. His fellow Democrats have blamed him for sparking a potential fight within the party in an election year.

But Assemblyman Ash Kalra vowed on Tuesday that he would not give up pushing for single-payer health care in California. He even called out Governor Gavin Newsom for withdrawing his support for the idea.

“I’m absolutely interested in reintroducing a single-payer health care bill next year,” the San Jose Democrat said in a phone interview Tuesday, the day after his controversial bill died. eliminate private insurance in favor of universal coverage. State Assembly.

His bill, Assembly Bill 1400, needed to pass the lower house on Monday to have a chance of moving forward, but Kalra said he didn’t have the votes.

Proponents of the plan, including the California Nurses Association, say it would guarantee all state residents equal access to care and prevent what they call profit-hungry insurance companies from making decisions to life-changing care.

But critics like the California Chamber of Commerce argue it would raise taxes dramatically and could send doctors fleeing to other states, upending Golden State’s healthcare system as it reels from the pandemic. A legislative analysis said it could cost more than $300 billion, although proponents argued residents would save money because they wouldn’t have to pay for insurance.

Kalra is under no illusions proposing a single-payer system next year will be easy, but he hopes more supporters of the idea will be elected to the legislature and thinks it will be easier to win over potential supporters who were hesitant to vote for something so controversial in an election year.

“By this time next year, we should have as many as half a dozen or more legislators currently campaigning for single-payer health care,” he said. “We will be in a much better position in terms of fundamental support.”

But to get there, Kalra will have to make amends with the nurses’ union, which had thrown its weight behind the proposal but excoriated the lawmaker for not bringing the bill to a vote in the Assembly before the deadline and having provided cover to colleagues.

“Nurses are especially outraged that Kalra has chosen to simply abandon patients across the state,” the union said in a statement. “Nurses never give up on our patients, and we will continue to fight with our allies in the grassroots movement for CalCare until all Californians can get the care they need, regardless of ability. to pay.”

Kalra insists that withholding the bill was the right decision.

“The bill would have gone up in flames,” he said, adding that it was “dramatically short” on votes.

While he’s “equally disappointed that we can’t get a majority of a Democratic-dominated legislature to support single-payer health care,” he’s also frustrated with Governor Newsom, who in the past s is committed to bringing single-payer health care to the state, but has more recently backed incremental plans to expand Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented immigrants by 2024.

“I think it hurts when you’re trying to garner votes for a policy that the governor pushes aside despite a prior commitment,” Kalra said.

The progressive wing of the state’s Democratic Party had threatened to withhold endorsements from Assembly members who did not vote in favor of Kalra’s proposal. This, too, “angered colleagues” and “added more work”, he said.

For now, Kalra said, “we’re going to take a break and see what the next steps are.”

It is open to amendments to the proposal and its refinement. He wants to talk to his colleagues and work to get more reluctant lawmakers on board. Opponents, he acknowledged, will also be ready to fight single-payer health care.

As he wanted a vote to take place this year, Kalra said, “We just ran out of track.”

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