Single-payer healthcare meets its fate again in the face of California's massive budget deficit

Supporters of single-payer health care march to the Capitol Wednesday, April 26, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. The bill, SB562 by Democratic state Sens. Ricardo Lara, of Bell Gardens, and Toni Atkins, of San Diego, that would guarantee health coverage with no out-of-pocket cost for all California residents, including people living in the country illegally is to be heard in the Senate Health Committee, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Supporters of single-payer healthcare march to the Capitol on April 26, 2017, in Sacramento. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The latest attempt to bring a single-payer healthcare system to California failed in the state Legislature on Thursday, undercut by its steep price tag as lawmakers struggle with a mounting budget shortfall.

Assembly Bill 2200, named Guaranteed Health Care for All — or CalCare — hoped to set up a universal single-payer healthcare system for all residents of California, but it died on Thursday in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San José) said he was "deeply disappointed" that it died so early on.

"I looked forward to presenting the bill on the Assembly Floor and was confident it would pass," Kalra said in a statement. "Losing the opportunity to advance the bill this year means further unnecessary delays in healthcare reform, allowing needless suffering and economic injustice to continue harming Californians."

"We have an obligation to balance the budget in California," said Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), chair of the committee. "There were some tough choices to make."

Read more: Single-payer healthcare is a 'tough, tough sell' as California faces massive budget shortfall

Wicks said she was a co-author of a previous single-payer healthcare bill, but told reporters that lawmakers had to weigh the financial burdens that accompanied this sweeping proposal.

CalCare was projected to annually cost the state $392 billion. Meanwhile, California is grappling with a $45-billion deficit. Kalra said there is "significant cost-saving potential" with a single-payer model.

"I'm a big believer. But at the end of the day it's a very expensive endeavor, one that is worthwhile that we should continue, as the years go on, to try to implement," she said. "But it was a difficult choice to make because of the current budget environment that we're in."

“During hard economic times, CalCare is needed more than ever. Today’s setback is frustrating, but only temporary in our long-term campaign to pass CalCare,” said Sandy Reding, a registered nurse and president of the California Nurses Assn, a staunch supporter of single-payer. “CalCare is not a matter of if, it’s when. CalCare has to happen.”

Read more: What to know about Gov. Newsom’s plan to offset California’s $45-billion deficit

Just two days ago, volunteers for the California Nurses Assn. were calling state lawmakers in hopes of a better outcome. Kalra joined the nurses and told them to "fight like hell" as a crowd of advocates cheered.

"There's no one I'd rather fight with than the nurses," he said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.