California's universal health care bill dies due to lack of votes

Legislation would have created a first-in-the-nation universal healthcare system.

Updated: January 31, 2022 - 11:18pm

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Lawmakers did not vote on a bill that would have created a first-in-the-nation universal healthcare system in California on Monday, bringing an end to a proposal that would have provided government-funded coverage to all state residents.

The proposal, contained in Assembly Bill 1400, was expected to be voted on by the full Assembly during a floor session on Monday. The bill would have created CalCare, a single-payer health care system to provide coverage for all Californians by levying billions in taxes on businesses and higher-earning individuals.

The bill’s principal author, Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, chose not to hold a vote, effectively killing the bill as it ran up against a legislative deadline of Monday. Because the bill was introduced last year, it had to pass the Assembly by Monday to advance.

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

Kalra said the lack of a vote is just a "pause for the single-payer movement," and said he would continue to fight for reform.

The lawmaker's decision not to hold a vote on the Assembly floor Monday sparked backlash from the California Nurses Association, who showed strong support for the bill in recent months.

“Nurses condemn this failure by elected representatives to put patients above profits, especially during the worst surge of Covid-19 yet, at a time when it’s more clear than ever before that health care must be a right, not just a privilege for those who can afford it,” the California Nurses Association, who supported AB 1400, said in a statement Monday.

“Nurses are especially outraged that Kalra chose to just give up on patients across the state. Nurses never give up on our patients, and we will keep fighting with our allies in the grassroots movement for CalCare until all people in California can get the care they need, regardless of ability to pay.”

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, voiced disappointment in Kalra’s decision to withhold the bill, saying that “the shortage of votes needed to pass this vote out of the Assembly indicates the immense difficulty of implementing single-payer healthcare in California.”

“Nevertheless, I’m deeply disappointed that the author did not bring this bill up for a vote today,” Rendon said in a statement. “I support single-payer and fully intended to vote yes on this bill.”

An analysis from the Assembly Appropriations Committee earlier this month estimated the single-payer system could cost the state between $314 billion and $391 billion annually to implement. The price tag drew opposition from several lawmakers and individuals, some of whom praised the effective end to the future of the bill on Monday.

"We applaud the Assembly for rejecting a proposal that would have required the largest tax increase in California history," California Taxpayers Association President Robert Gutierrez said in a statement.

Several supporters took to Twitter to express their disappointment that the bill did not receive a floor vote in the Assembly on Monday. Among them were leaders from the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party, who vowed last week not to endorse any Democratic Assemblymembers who voted against the proposal.

"We are all gutted," Caucus Chair Amar Shergill tweeted. "Will need a moment to absorb and recover.

To be clear. This bill won't be back. Today was the last day on the calendar for this bill. We are all gutted. Will need a moment to absorb and recover.— CADem Progressive Caucus Chair (@AmarShergillCA) February 1, 2022