Special Assembly committee begins hearings on health insurance

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A special state assembly committee held the first in a series of hearings Monday on California’s health insurance system. The hearings are widely considered to be a reaction to the public outcry that followed the shelving of a single-payer bill earlier this year.

In a thinly-veiled reference to that bill,  select committee co-chair Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) warned his colleagues: "When we review proposals that claim to eliminate premiums, deductibles, copays, and guarantee everyone all medically necessary care, including hospitalization, dental, vision, mental health, and long-term care, we must be skeptical."

The Health Care Delivery Systems and Universal Coverage committee is made up of five Democrats and two Republicans.

"My role is to ask difficult questions, but I do it in the spirit of finding a pathway to a system that covers everyone in a way that is sustainable and delivers quality care," said Wood.

Those questions will come in subsequent hearings. The first two days are basically health insurance 101, as lawmakers get a crash course in the details of Medi-Cal, Medicare, Covered California and employer sponsored health care.

The background is important for legislators looking to improve health care in the state, said Anthony Wright, executive director of the consumer group Health Access.

"To get to that system requires us understanding that complexity of the current system and how we transition from that to a simpler, more efficient, more universal and secure health care system," he said.

For Wright, the hearings allow an opportunity for consumer groups to start an incremental process toward a single-payer system.

"There are steps that we can take now to get closer to the goal of health for all," he said.

The California Nurses Association continues to pressure assembly members with near constant canvassing and rallying for the single-payer bill it sponsored. That measure, SB 562, passed the State Senate, but Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) set it aside on the grounds that it was "woefully incomplete."

The nurses organization and other single-payer advocates angrily denounced Rendon. Some launched a recall effort against him.

"We do not need more study of deficient models, such as [Affordable Care Act] expansion or hybrid systems that fall short on universality, equity, access and affordability," said Bonnie Castillo, the Nurses Association's associate executive director.