National health care debate can be summed up by bill introduced in California

By YESENIA AMARO - McClatchy Newspapers
The Bellingham (Wash.) Herald, May 17, 2011

MERCED, Calif. -- The national debate over health care can be summed up in a bill on the table in Sacramento.

Supporters of state Senate Bill 810 say the legislation would be the only way to provide medical coverage for every resident of California.

Opponents deride the measure as "socialized medicine."

The California Universal Healthcare Act was introduced by Democratic state Sen. Mark Leno. The bill would initiate a single-payer universal health care reform for the state of California, Leno said. "What that means in short is Medicare for all," he explained.

Supporter Keith Ensminger, a Merced resident and owner of Kramber Translation, said the largest benefit of the legislation would probably be that it would include everyone. "Everybody would have insurance, regardless of their income and regardless of their position in life," he said.

There are other positive effects from the bill, Ensminger said. It would lower the cost of insurance for most people, everybody would be covered with an insurance plan and it would allow people to have their medical condition treated early rather than waiting.

In addition, it would prevent medical bankruptcies, he said.

Dr. Bill Skeen, executive director of California's chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, said the organization supports the legislation because it's the only way of providing coverage for everyone and controlling the high costs of the health care system. The organization advocates for a universal, comprehensive single-payer national health program. "I think it would be a win-win situation for almost everyone," he said.

Providers would also see gains from the single-payer system, Skeen said.

"One of them is with a single-payer, there would be a simplified electronic billing system," he said. That would help providers cut costs by not needing as many medical records clerks.

However, part of the bill that could be criticized is that everyone would be a part of the same plan, Enseminger said.

Organizations such as the California Chamber of Commerce and the Child and Family Protection Association strongly oppose the bill.

The CFPA calls it socialized medicine. "SB810 would destroy our choices in health care and force us to pay for and exclusively use a government-controlled socialistic health care system - regardless of what the courts or Congress do with the Obamacare," the organization said on its website.

Marti Fisher, a policy advocate with the California Chamber of Commerce, wasn't available for comment. In a letter she sent to members of the state Senate Health Committee on behalf of the chamber, she said the chamber opposes the bill because "it creates a new government-run, multibillion-dollar socialized health care system that would conflict with recently enacted federal health care reform and built from a yet to be specified premium structure."

However, Leno said the bill wouldn't conflict with federal health care law. In 2017, the federal law would let states apply for federal waivers, which would allow California to use federal dollars on health care in the state for a single-payer system, he said.

The idea is that states would provide broader coverage without increasing the federal deficit. Leno said the single-payer system in California would cover everyone, while the federal law would leave about 3 million without coverage in the state. "The single-payer would cover everyone and will reduce the cost and the growth in health care costs," he said.

In California, there are about 12 million people without coverage at any given time, he said.

In the letter to the state Senate committee, Fisher said the bill would "establish a premium commission to impose a premium for all employers, which is essentially a tax."

The state would use the same money it now uses to pay for the single-payer system. However, Leno said the money would be spent more efficiently.

The legislation is a two-year bill, Leno said, and the hope is to have it on the governor's desk in the summer of 2012.

Two similar bills were introduced in 2006 and in 2008. They were vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.