Why single-payer might actually make it to Newsom’s desk

By Rachel Bluth
February 7, 2024
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: On paper, it wouldn’t seem like the perfect moment for California Democrats to finally pass universal health care.
It’s an election year and the state is facing a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. Any single-payer scheme would need to go through a lengthy approval process with the federal government, and if former President Donald Trump is back in charge it could all be for naught. Health care costs are soaring, but more Californians have health insurance than ever before.
But the political landscape in the Legislature has shifted since Assemblymember Ash Kalra’s last attempt. Its leadership ranks are now stacked with single-payer allies.
In charge of the Assembly Health Committee is Mia Bonta, a co-author on both of Kalra’s last bills who attended a pro-single-payer town hall with Kalra in October. Running Appropriations is Buffy Wicks, also a co-author on Kalra’s last policy bill. And the Assembly’s new speaker also has a pro-single-payer history. In 2022, Robert Rivas subbed in for a member of the Assembly Health Committee to cast a vote for Kalra’s single-payer bill.
In the Senate, new Pro Tem Mike McGuire has had his name on every single-payer bill since 2017, though he was noncommittal about it in an interview with Playbook last week.
The legislative environment has proponents of the measure — called CalCare — feeling confident.
“With this new emerging legislative leadership, things are looking even more favorable,” said Jasmine Ruddy, a spokesperson with the California Nurses Association. “Across the board, the tide is turning.”
The nurses group has spent the last two years priming the pump for a single-payer push on the ground. They organized support to elect five “CalCare champions” to the Legislature and have added provisions to the bill that will appeal to moderates, like special attention for rural hospitals.
As Kalra focuses on moving his bill through the Legislature, he says he isn’t thinking about who is in the White House or how Gov. Gavin Newsom — who campaigned on the idea of single-payer in 2018 but has yet to endorse a specific policy proposal — will respond if the bill gets to his desk.