California Revisits Offering Universal Health Care, Despite No Clear Plan to Pay for It

California lawmakers on Tuesday begin debate about creating the nation's first universal health care system.

State Assembly Democrats filed two bills, one that would create the system and its rules, while the other lays out the funding through increasing large businesses and wealthy individuals' taxes. Since the proposal was introduced in 2021, it must pass the Assembly by January 31 if it has a chance at becoming law this year.

The Assembly Health Committee will hear the bill first. Chair Jim Wood, a Democrat, has said he will vote for it.

Opponents, such as Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron, said they would focus on the funding methods during this discussion.

"In the Health Committee, I look forward to a robust discussion on the impacts of socialized medicine in California, including how much taxes will increase on the middle class," Waldron said.

It is not the first time the state attempted to create a government-funded health care system. In 1994, California voters rejected the ballot initiative, which would have replaced private insurance with a government-run system.

In 2017, another attempt to create state universal health care passed in the state Senate but failed in the Assembly because there was no funding plan.

California Universal Health Care
The universal health care bill will have to pass in California's Assembly if it has a chance to become law in 2022. Above, Governor Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference at Kingston 11 Cuisine on October 8, 2021 in Oakland, California. Justin Sullivan//Getty Images

Universal health care has been debated for decades in the U.S., most recently during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, when U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders promoted it.

But it has never come close to passing in Congress. State lawmakers in Sanders' home state of Vermont have tried and failed to implement their own universal health care system. And the New York State Legislature has considered a similar plan.

Supporters in California are adopting a divide-and-conquer strategy this year. They hope that separating the idea of a universal health care system from the question of how to pay for it will give them a better chance of getting the bills passed and eventually winning voter approval.

"We can debate the policy. If someone says, 'How are we going to pay for it?' Well, those are two different issues now," said Assemblyman Ash Kalra, a Democrat and the author of both proposals. "If we can agree on a policy and get that policy passed, then it becomes more real. Then you are actually telling the voters what they are voting for. That's really important."

The California universal health care plan requires at least a two-thirds vote in both houses of the state Legislature ahead of voter approval in a statewide election.

Democrats have large majorities, but getting all of them to support the tax increases required to pay for the plan will be difficult. The California Taxpayers Association, which opposes the plan, says it would raise taxes by $163 billion per year on businesses and people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.