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State Senate passes NUHW-backed bill to put California on pathway to guaranteed healthcare

In a major step toward groundbreaking reform of California’s healthcare financing and delivery system, the State Senate passed SB 770 on Tuesday, May 30 by a vote of 30 aye to 9 no.

The bill, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and co-sponsored by NUHW, sets forth tangible steps on a concrete timeline to make California the first state to guarantee residents a standard set of comprehensive, high quality health benefits regardless of age, income, employment status, disability status, immigration status, or any other characteristic.

SB 770, which now heads to the State Assembly, would endorse and advance the recommendations of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Healthy California For All Commission. Last year, the commission issued a report that found transitioning to a unified healthcare financing system would avert 4,000 deaths per year, and save Californians $158 billion per year in healthcare spending by 2031.

“Our fragmented healthcare system leaves lethal gaps in coverage that disproportionately impact historically and systemically marginalized communities,” Wiener said. “SB 770 establishes a transparent process that will support stakeholders in doing the detailed work of building a better system while the Newsom administration collaborates with federal officials to ensure that it will be funded with California’s full share of federal healthcare dollars.”

Newsom’s commission concluded that a unified financing system, which could include but is not limited to the type of single-payer financing system used in Canada, should:

  • Guarantee all California residents a comprehensive package of healthcare benefits including behavioral health care, and potentially long-term care and support services.
  • Eliminate distinctions among Medicare, Medi-Cal, employer-sponsored insurance, and individual market coverage.

To put the commission’s recommendations into action, SB 770 directs California’s Secretary of Health and Human Services to:

  • Pursue discussions with federal authorities regarding the potential terms of waivers necessary for California to secure its full share of federal healthcare funds for the new system.
  • Establish a diverse working group of healthcare stakeholders to help resolve the healthcare delivery system issues that the commission did not fully resolve.
  • Provide quarterly reports to the chairs of the Assembly and Senate Health Committees on the status and outcomes of waiver discussions with the federal government and the progress of the work group.
  • Submit a complete set of recommendations regarding the elements to be included in a formal waiver application by no later than June 1, 2024.

“The State Senate’s passage of SB 770 is a monumental step forward in the fight for an equitable, high-quality healthcare system that will guarantee better care at lower costs for all Californians,” said Michel Lighty, NUHW’s representative on Healthy California Now, a statewide coalition of organizations that sponsored the bill.

Lighty, who is the coalition’s president, added, “Polls have consistently shown that Californians want the kind of universal, comprehensive healthcare system the governor’s commission envisioned, and now the State Senate has advanced legislation laying out the specific steps necessary to make that vision real.”

In addition to NUHW, organizations supporting the bill include Health Access California, Western Center on Law and Poverty, California Academy of Family Physicians, Alliance for Retired Americans, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, UNITE HERE, California Federation of Teachers, SEIU California, and the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council.

NUHW President Sal Rosselli said that reforming California’s healthcare system will be good for healthcare workers as well as those receiving care. “In contract bargaining, the health plan that NUHW members have typically accounts for 15 to 20 percent of the employer’s labor expenses,” Rosselli said. “If we can take that off the table, we would be in a much better position to negotiate better wages and retirement benefits.”

Although California has taken steps to expand coverage under the Affordable Care Act, approximately 9 percent of state residents (3.2 million people) were projected to be uninsured in 2022, a figure that includes many undocumented Californians. A 2019 report by the California Health Care Foundation found that “people of color face barriers to accessing health care, often receive suboptimal treatment, and are most likely to experience poor outcomes” in the current healthcare system.

“Our current system makes healthcare unaffordable and unattainable for far too many California residents,” NUHW Secretary-Treasurer Sophia Mendoza said. “There’s a long battle ahead of us, but we have a strong and diverse coalition of labor unions, healthcare advocates, and anti-poverty organizations that are ready to make the case in the State Assembly that we can’t delay the hard work of building a healthcare system that provides better care at lower costs.”

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