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Universal Health Care Bill Passes Committee

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday April 20, 2007

A bill that would guarantee single-payer health care coverage to all Californians passed the California State Senate Health Committee Thursday, leaving at least one community advocate optimistic about the bill’s chances of becoming law. 

Senator Sheila Kuehl’s SB 840 now goes to the full Senate and, if it passes there, to the Assembly. Kuehl’s bill would provide health care coverage for all Californians through a single, state-developed health care system, the so-called “single payer” system. 

Vote Health organization, a local advocate of Kuehl’s bill, has scheduled a public discussion on the bill and health care reform for Monday, April 23, 7 p.m., at California Nursing Association Hall, 2000 Franklin St. at 20th Street, in downtown Oakland. 

Other bills that would guarantee coverage for a smaller number of Californians have been introduced by Senate President Don Perata, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, the Senate Republican Caucus, and Assembly Repub-licans. In addition, while not introducing a specific bill himself, Governor Arnold Schwarzeneg-ger has released the outlines of a health insurance reform package. 

Vote Health has written an eight-page comparison of what they call Kuehl’s “comprehensive reform” to the other proposals, which they describe as either “incremental” (the Schwarzeneg-ger, Perata, and Nuñez plans) or “limited” (Republican legislators’) reform. 

Perata is a co-sponsor of Kuehl’s bill, and both he and Nuñez have said that they support single-payer, universal health care coverage in principle. Both Democratic legislative leaders have said, however, that they don’t believe such a bill can make it to law this year, and they want to pass legislation that can lead to at least some increase in health care coverage in California. 

But many health care advocates in the state are putting all their efforts and bets on  

Kuehl’s bill. 

“Spectacular,” Health Care for All (HCA) chair Dan Hodges said in a telephone interview in describing the scene at yesterday’s committee vote. “It was a gigantic turnout by people advocating for passage. The hearing room was packed, both on the ground floor and in the balconies.” 

Others were watching the hearing on television in overflow rooms in the Capitol Building, and in rooms outside the state house, as well. It was a rainbow of t-shirts from such groups as the California School Employees, the Service Employees International Union, and the California Nurses Association. 

When Senator Kuehl spoke before the committee, she thanked the “1.2 bazillion people” who had come out to support her bill. “HCA has been working on universal health care issues since 1998, and this is a monumental change, a historic change, in advocacy for a single-payer plan. It’s the greatest growth we’ve seen in public support for health care reform.” 

Hodges said that Kuehl’s bill passed on a 6-4 partisan vote, with committee Demo-crats voting in favor and Republicans voting against. With a two-thirds vote needed to overcome a possible veto by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, some Republican support is needed for Kuehl’s bill to become law. 

Hodges is upbeat that this can be done. 

“We are going to need a giant public demand for health care reform,” he said, “a giant, historic grassroots movement which will cause some businesses to break ranks and come forward and do the right thing and support Kuehl’s bill.” 

Hodges said that businesses will be the key to the bill’s passage.  

“I can’t see this happening without many businesses changing their positions,” he said. “I can’t see Republican support without pressure from their business constituents. That’s going to lead to a leveraging of moderate Democrats as well.”