Sacramento Insiders Wary of Single-Payer’s Chances

Posted by Kassy Perry

Date: 12/7
Outlet: Voice of San Diego
Author: Kelly Davis

SB 562, the bill to enact single-payer health care in California, spurred intense national interest and debate earlier this year as it made its way through the Legislature, and provoked protests when it was shelved. But at Tuesday’s Southern California State of Reform Health Policy conference in San Diego, single-payer came off as more of a distraction than a viable policy.

Democratic strategists at one panel talked about how single-payer has become a political tool — a “litmus test” that will be used against state legislators in next year’s election. Kassy Perry, president of Sacramento public relations firm Perry Communications, noted that the California Nurses Association — single-payer’s biggest champion — plans to run someone against Northern California Assemblyman Jim Wood, who’s repeatedly questioned the bill’s high price tag. Wood sits on the Assembly’s Select Committee on Healthcare Delivery, which held a hearing on SB 562 in October, with a second hearing scheduled for Monday.

“It is a faith-based policy that is being used to help define what it means to be a Democrat,” said panelist David Panush, president of California Health Policy Strategies.

“We already have a Democratic-controlled Legislature,” Perry said. “If the nurses union is running candidates, you’re going to see an even farther swinging left.”

In another panel featuring Republican Assemblywoman Marie Waldron and Assemblyman Randy Voepel, both of whom represent parts of San Diego County, single-payer took a backseat to issues like opioid addiction and access to care; neither Waldron nor Voepel, who both sit on health care committees, condemned the bill, though Voepel, a fan of colorful analogies, compared single-payer to a burrito.

“On one end of the burrito, you have the doctor group, the benefits, the whole infrastructure of healthcare,” he said. “The other end is funding. You squeeze one end and the other pops out. How to squeeze the burrito — that’s what they’re dealing with in Sacramento.”

Voepel said single-payer could work — if it included the flexibility to purchase supplemental care and if funding existed.

Other topics the panels discussed:

  • Aetna/CVS merger: Earlier this week, health insurer Aetna announced a merger with CVS Health. On the Dem side, Jim Gross, a partner at Sacramento-based law firm Nielsen Merksamer, described the move as an “unmitigated disaster” for California that won’t result in cost-savings for consumers, while Voepel found Aetna’s plan to create “health hubs” at CVS pharmacies a promising model.
  • Opioid crisis: Both panels agreed that California’s well-positioned to tackle opioid addiction, though panelists pointed out that we haven’t seen the worst of it. “California is light years ahead,” Waldron said, “but there’s so much work to do.”
  • Health care costs: One way of bringing down costs, Waldron said, was to strengthen links between health care and social services. “We pay a lot more and our results are a lot less than a lot of other countries,” she said.

Read more from Voice of San Diego here.