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NUHW-backed reform bill clears key Assembly committee

One month after it sailed through the State Senate, SB 770, a bill that would set the stage for groundbreaking reform of California’s healthcare financing and delivery system, passed another key test, advancing out of the State Assembly’s Health Committee on June 27.

The committee voted 10-4 to advance SB 770 with only Republicans voting in opposition.

“We’re gaining momentum,” said Michael Lighty, NUHW’s representative on Healthy California Now, a statewide coalition of organizationsthat sponsored the bill. “The committee’s vote shows that there is more support than ever for transformational healthcare reform that will guarantee better care at lower costs for all Californians.”

The bill, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and co-sponsored by NUHW, sets forth tangible steps on a concrete timeline for California 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 Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, 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 — in which health insurance would no longer be tied to employment — would avert 4,000 deaths per year, and save hundreds of billions of dollars. Those savings could be used to cut out-of-pocket costs, expand access to long-term care and other services, and relieve the burden of high healthcare costs on families and businesses.

The new system would also benefit unionized healthcare workers by taking health care off the bargaining table. Since health coverage typically accounts for 15 to 20 percent of an employer’s labor expenses, workers would be in a much better position to negotiate better wages and retirement benefits.

During the hearing, UNITE-HERE, Local 11 Co-President Ada Briceño said that dishwashers and housekeepers in Los Angeles would have taken home more than $100,000 in additional pay over the last two decades had healthcare premiums only risen at the standard rate of inflation.

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 left unresolved.
  • 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.

Addressing the committee, Sen. Wiener explained that SB 770 would “dovetail” with future legislation detailing the transformation to a single-payer, Medicare for All-style healthcare system because it would help policymakers fully understand the scope of federal waivers necessary for such a transformation to take place.

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.

“We’re proud to help lead a diverse coalition of unions, healthcare advocates and anti-poverty organizations committed toward a viable path for guaranteeing health care for all Californians,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “There’s still many hurdles in front of us, but there’s a growing consensus that we need to take action right away to start fixing a system that fails so many of California’s most vulnerable residents.”

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.

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