A key legislative committee in California revived a bill Thursday to create a government-run health care system in the nation's most populous state, two days after Massachusetts elected a senator who opposes the president's national health care plan.
The Senate Appropriations Committee released the bill for a vote by the full Senate next week. The legislation had been held over from last year because of the state's ongoing budget crisis.
Creating a single-payer system would cost California an estimated $210 billion in its first year. That's roughly double the size of the total state budget, but about what the state and federal government and residents cumulatively spend now on California health care, said Sen. Mark Leno.
Leno, D-San Francisco, introduced the bill after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger twice vetoed similar legislation. The Republican governor negotiated his own $14.7 billion health care reform bill with Democratic leaders two years ago, only to see the measure fail in a Senate committee amid concerns over paying for the measure.
Leno's bill would create a commission to decide how to pay for the system, at a cost this year of more than $1 million.
Leno said the system could be funded with a payroll tax along with existing state and federal money and increased efficiencies from a state-managed system that eliminates the insurance middleman. Voters would have to approve the commission's funding plan, he said.
Republicans mocked majority Democrats for reviving the bill as health care reform flounders in Washington, and California struggles with a new $20 billion deficit.
"California Democrats are either tone-deaf or delusional," California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, also criticized the timing, though Democrats can send the measure to Schwarzenegger without Republican votes.
Leno said voters may dislike the hybrid health care plan being debated in Congress, but polls have shown support for a state-run plan in California. The appropriations committee had to act Thursday for the bill to be considered by the full Senate before a Jan. 31 deadline for passing bills introduced last year.
"Whatever comes out of Washington is much less certain, which only gives greater incentive for leadership coming from state legislators because somehow, some way, health care reform must be addressed," Leno said in a telephone interview. "We're drowning. We can't keep up and it's killing our economy and it's harming our employers and it's harming our employees. It's harming everybody."
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