By: Antonio Villaraigosa
I grew up in East Lost Angeles where many residents had no health insurance or were dramatically underinsured.
When I was a teenager I was diagnosed with a tumor in my spinal canal. It sent me to the emergency room and for a moment I was so sick a priest was called to give me last rites just in case. There is a decent chance I am here today because my mother, a public employee, had good health care.
I have never forgotten that — the difference between quality health care and no care. And that’s why I have never stopped fighting my entire adult life for quality, universal and affordable health care for all Californians.
Health care is now front and center as an issue in the campaign for governor of California, in particular the debate around a plan called Senate Bill 562, which seeks to create a $400 billion single-payer system in California.
Some quick facts about SB562. The independent Legislative Analyst’s Office calculates it will cost $200 billion in new taxes to implement. By way of comparison, the entire state budget proposed for next year is $190 billion — meaning SB562 would require more than doubling of state taxes. Just as significantly, the SB562 plan would end Medicare as we know it, forcing all Medicare recipients into a new state-run system. SB562 would end successful plans like Kaiser and union-based plans, again forcing all those enrolled in the new state-run system. And it is worth noting, the entire plan is based on the dubious premise that President Donald Trump would agree with the plan, since it would require a federal waiver to implement.
I oppose SB562 because right now when health care in California is under assault by the Trump administration, our priority should be to achieve universal health care in California by expanding the Affordable Care Act and Medicare, not ending these successful programs. SB562 has no reasonable funding plan, needs approval by the Trump administration and has no reasonable chance of ever moving forward.
SB562 isn’t a sound health care policy. It is essentially a political press release.
When I was in the state Assembly I fought to expand access to Medi-Cal for children from 100 percent to 200 percent above poverty line. I couldn’t get any support from my colleagues because I did not have a funding plan.
The next year, I authored the Healthy Families program, which expanded health coverage to nearly 750,000 California children. I had learned from my earlier mistakes that when it comes to changing health care law, it is important to think it through, get it right and make sure you know how you are going to pay for it.
As mayor of Los Angeles, and certainly as chair of the Democratic National Convention in 2012, I fought to protect Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The ACA has lowered the rate of California’s uninsured from a staggering 17 percent in the year before it passed to 6.8 percent today.
This translates to more than 4 million Californians who now have life-saving access to health care because of the Affordable Care Act.
That’s why for me, the very first priority of our next governor must be to stand up to Donald Trump and preserve the ACA. Losing what is known as “Obamacare” would be a disaster for California.
We need to do a better job of containing costs, including controlling drug prices, building up our prevention strategies by expanding our primary care network, focusing on preventing costly and chronic conditions like diabetes and coronary heart disease, utilizing technology where appropriate to reduce costs and working to eliminate toxins in our environment which contribute to adverse health conditions.
But we also must remember that the very best way to cover more people with quality health care is to create millions more high-wage jobs that pay decent benefits, starting with excellent health care benefits. That’s why I have said my first three priorities as governor will be high-wage jobs, high-wage jobs and high-wage jobs.
We can, and will, protect the ACA and Medicare and expand them toward universal care. But it will take more than slogans and press releases. It will take a real plan.