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California Introduces Bill for Statewide Universal Healthcare

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Assembly Bill (AB) 1400 passed in the California state assembly’s committee on rules on Jan. 11. Referred to as the universal health care bill, the proposal outlines a single-payer system that would replace private insurance plans in the state. 

AB 1400 would provide government-run care to all California citizens, essentially eliminating the need for private insurance. All California residents would be able to enroll in the system and receive care benefits including lowered prescription costs, emergency medical care and general medical doctor visits. 

The legislative proposal has been coupled with an amendment to the state’s constitution in order to fund its contents. The amendment, titled Assembly Constitutional Amendment 11, includes a variety of new taxes, including an annual excise tax on businesses with over $2 million in annual income and a 2.3% personal income tax for individuals who earn $149,509 or more yearly. 

Universal health care coverage has long been an unfulfilled goal of California Democrats. State voters rejected a similar ballot initiative in 1994, and one introduced in 2017 failed to pass the California State Assembly.

Other states that have attempted similar bills have also met obstacles. Vermont’s state government created a law to establish the state’s first single-payer health care system in 2011, but lawmakers had to abandon it due to a shortage of funds for its execution. 

Even if AB 1400 survives, it will take years for the bill to make it to the ballot, and it will likely appear in 2024, according to Assemblymember Ash Kalra, who authored the bill.

Supporters of the bill are optimistic that it will be beneficial for Californians, claiming a single-payer system will reduce health coverage costs and allow people to reap more benefits.

“There are countless studies that tell us a single-payer healthcare system is the fiscally sound thing to do, the smarter healthcare policy to follow, and a moral imperative if we care about human life,” Kalra said

Despite the bill’s many supporters, particularly among Democrats, it still lacks support from several key figures, including Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom’s 2022-2023 state budget proposal seeks to expand Medi-Cal, California’s current Medicaid care system, in indirect opposition to AB 1400.

Newsom’s plan highlights similar benefits that are also purported by AB 1400, including lowered healthcare costs, better accessibility and bolstered health infrastructure. His proposal could take effect as early as 2024 if approved by the state legislature. Compared to the long process needed to finalize and implement AB 1400, it would be a more expeditious option.

In addition to the Newsom’s opposition, many organizations within the state are mobilizing against the bill. The California Chamber of Commerce labeled the proposal as a “job killer,” and the California Medical Association expressed its apprehension over the lack of a cost analysis for the bill. 

As the debate on how best to provide medical care for Californians heats up, it’s clear that no definite solutions exist quite yet.

“I believe in a single-payer financing model. The ‘how’ at the state level is the question that needs to be answered thoughtfully,” Newsom said.


Elaina Martin is a City News Staff Writer. She can be reached at elainarm@uci.edu.