The powerful nurses’ union claims he “chose to just give up on patients.” Fellow Democrats blamed him for setting off a potential fight within the party during an election year.
But Assemblymember Ash Kalra on Tuesday pledged he is not walking away from pushing for single-payer health care in California. He even called out Gov. Gavin Newsom for pulling back his support of the idea.
“I’m absolutely interested in re-introducing a single-payer health care bill next year,” the San Jose Democrat said during a phone interview Tuesday, the day after his controversial proposal to eliminate private insurance in favor of universal coverage died in the state Assembly.
His bill, Assembly Bill 1400, needed to pass the lower house by Monday to have a chance at moving forward, but Kalra said he didn’t have the votes.
Supporters of the plan, including the California Nurses Association, say it would guarantee all residents of the state equal access to care and keep what they call profit-hungry insurance corporations from making life-altering care decisions.
But detractors like the California Chamber of Commerce argue it would dramatically increase taxes and could send doctors fleeing to other states, upending the Golden State’s health care system while it is reeling from the pandemic. A legislative analysis said it could cost more than $300 billion, although supporters argued residents would save money since they wouldn’t have to pay for insurance.
Kalra is under no illusion putting forward a single-payer system next year will be easy, but he’s hopeful more supporters of the idea will be elected to the legislature and thinks it will be easier to win over would-be backers who were reluctant to vote for something so controversial in an election year.
“By this time next year, we should have as many as half a dozen or more legislators currently campaigning in favor of single-payer health care,” he said. “We’ll be in a much better position in terms of the foundational support.”
But to get there, Kalra will have to make amends with the nurses’ union, which had put its weight behind the proposal but excoriated the lawmaker for failing to put the bill up for a vote on the Assembly floor by the deadline and providing cover to colleagues.
“Nurses are especially outraged that Kalra chose to just give up on patients across the state,” the union said in a statement. “Nurses never give up on our patients, and we will keep fighting with our allies in the grassroots movement for CalCare until all people in California can get the care they need, regardless of ability to pay.”
Kalra insists holding the bill back was the right move.
“The bill would’ve gone down in flames,” he said, adding that it was “drastically short” on votes.
While he’s “equally disappointed that we can’t get the majority of a legislature dominated by Democrats to support single-payer health care,” he’s also frustrated with Gov. Newsom, who in the past pledged to bring single-payer health care to the state but has more recently supported incremental plans to expand Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented immigrants by 2024.
“I think it hurts when you’re trying to garner votes for a policy that the governor is brushing aside despite a prior commitment to it,” Kalra said.