By Miriam Raftery
February 22, 2017 (San Diego) – California could become the first state in the nation to have universal healthcare coverage for all residents, if a bill introduced by State Senators Toni Atkins from San Diego and Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens becomes law.
The Democratic lawmakers introduced the measure last week in response to President Donald Trump’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and replace it with an alternative that would likely make healthcare more expensive for many Americans.
The Healthy California Act introduced by Atkins and Lara would eliminate private insurance and replace it with a government healthcare system, similar to the Medicare system, but that would cover all 38 million California residents including people of all ages, citizens, green card holders and undocumented immigrants.
Senator Atkins posted on Twitter, “In light of the threats to the Affordable Care Act, it’s important that we look at all options to maintain and expand health care.” She noted that the ACA has been particularly important for people with HIV and AIDS, a life-threatening illness with costly treatments.
Before the Affordable Care Act, 17 percent of Californians had no health insurance. By late last year, the Affordable Care Act had cut California’s uninsured rate by more than half, down to just 7.1 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The Healthy California Act would allow Californians to choose their own doctors, but healthcare money would be pooled in a publicly run fund that would use the bargaining power of California, the world’s seventh biggest economy, to drive down costs of items such as prescription drugs.
Advocates including the California Nurses Association say that costly copays and high deductibles would vanish, allowing consumers to save large amounts of money.
If the Legislature approves the bill, which is expected to go through revisions as it works its way through the Assembly and Senate, it is not yet certain whether Governor Jerry Brown will sign it – though the Governor has pledged to fight to protect all California citizens from negative consequences of the Trump administration.
Polls show rising public support for government-backed healthcare. Pew Research in January found that 60 percent of all people surveyed nationwide now say the government should be responsible for assuring healthcare coverage for all Americans.
Those findings reflect a shift even among Trump’s base. Pew found that 52 percent –more than half—of Republicans with family incomes less than $30,000 say the federal government should be responsible for assuring health coverage for all – up from just 31 percent last year.
If California adopts universal healthcare, it will join many other industrialized nations that have already done so including Canada, Australia, Japan, and most European countries.