California's Dream of Universal Health Care Crushed…by Democrats

The California State Assembly failed to pass a bill aimed at introducing a system of universal health care on Monday despite the fact that Democrats have a substantial majority in the chamber.

The bill's author, Assemblyman Ash Kalra, decided not to bring the bill up for a vote because Democrats didn't have the support to pass it, despite controlling 56 of the assembly's 80 seats.

The proposal needed to pass by midnight on Monday to have a chance of becoming law this year and Democrats required 41 votes to pass it, but that support was apparently not forthcoming.

Kalra, a Democrat, decided not to force a vote on the bill, known as Assembly Bill (AB) 1400.

The bill's death in the state assembly may be interpreted as a warning sign to Democrats nationwide who support a universal health-care system.

California has long been a heavily Democratic state and the party controls both the legislature and the governor's office. The state is also reliably blue in presidential elections.

California lawmakers had faced intense lobbying from supporters and opponents of the measure, including business groups, while Democrats were also missing four members of their caucus who had recently resigned to take up other roles.

"Despite heavy opposition and substantial misinformation from those that stand to profit from our current health-care system, we were able to ignite a realistic and achievable path toward single-payer and bring AB 1400 to the floor of the Assembly," Assemblyman Kalra said in a statement.

"However, it became clear that we did not have the votes necessary for passage and I decided the best course of action is to not put AB 1400 for a vote today," he said.

AB 1400 would have created the only government-funded universal health-care system in the U.S. That system, CalCare, would have cost between between $314 billion and $391 billion in federal and state funds, according to legislative analysis.

Kalra introduced another bill this year - Assembly Constitutional Amendment 11 - which would have raised $163 billion in new taxes on businesses, large companies and the state's wealthiest people in order to pay to set up the universal health-care system. That bill would also have to be approved by the state's voters after passing the legislature.

The failure of a universal health-care bill in the nation's largest Democrat-led state may be a blow to advocates who favor similar systems in their own states or even nationwide government-funded health care.

California Governor Gavin Newsom supported a single-payer health care system when he ran for governor in 2018, but he didn't become involved in the debate about AB 1400. Newsom recently introduced a budget proposal to provide health coverage for all undocumented migrants in the state by 2024.

This is the second time the state assembly has failed to pass a universal health-care plan in recent years. A state senate bill proposing a single-payer system in 2017 stalled in the assembly.

A Health Care Rally in Los Angeles
The Campaign for a Healthy California, a coalition of health reform, labor and civic groups, performs a "zombie march" and rally on April Fools' Day, April 1, 2012, in downtown Los Angeles. The California State Assembly failed to pass a universal health care bill on Monday. Axel Koester/Corbis/Getty Images