Editorial: Weighing single-payer health care

Wending its way closer to legislative passage is one of the most wide-ranging bills in California history. Senate Bill 840 would initiate a Canadian-type, single-payer system of universal health insurance for the entire state.

The bill was introduced in 2005 by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Los Angeles, and is co-sponsored by no less than 33other California legislators. SB 840 easily passed the Senate last year and is currently being held in the Assembly Rules Committee at Kuehl’s request, pending passage of the new state budget.

Proponents of SB 840 hail the legislation as a long-overdue panacea that would cut private health insurance administrative costs by up to one-third and save California $20 billion a year while costing workers and employers far less than the current unsatisfactory system.

Undoubtedly many Californians would favor a bill promising such great benefits. But meanwhile, opponents of single-payer insurance are warning that SB 840 is a medical and economic calamity in the making.

According to “Deadly Solution,” a 48-page study issued June 12 by the Pacific Research Institute, SB 840 would not only make statewide healthcare quality significantly worse, it would also shutter thousands of small businesses, cause the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and prevent countless businesses from ever setting up shop in California. The full report can be seen on www.pacificresearch.org.

Among the dire consequences predicted by the PRI study — based on analysis of existing single-payer systems in Canada, England, Medicaid and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — California would lose nearly one-fourth of its 94,000 physicians and misspend some $9 billion yearly on free healthcare for patients who didn’t need it. The report argues that wasted time from lengthy waits for medical treatment would account for a loss of $1 billion a year. The bill would also establish no less than 10 new state bureaucracies with monopolistic powers.

As SB 840 approaches a full Assembly vote, lobbyists on both sides of the issue are sure to bring out their biggest guns. The ensuing battle to sway public opinion could well help clarify the worth of contradictory claims, which would be a positive development.

It is unlikely that Gov. Schwarzenegger would sign any universal healthcare bill into law unless he somehow became convinced it would not sabotage the state’s economy. But the one thing that friends and foes of SB 840 do agree on is that California healthcare access is unsatisfactory and must somehow be improved. However, a state government monopoly of health insurance coverage does not seem the right way to fix the problems.

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