The California State Legislature must act quickly if it is to ensure a safe landing for the millions of American residents who will be left uninsured when the Affordable Care Act is repealed by the federal government.
Since Congress voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it has not hesitated for discussion among members or input from the public, instead working to force through a conservative replacement while Republicans have the majority.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s proposed legislation, called the American Health Care Act, successfully passed through The House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means Committee in its first week. This bill is based on a tax credit system, rather than income-based subsidies, and has been critiqued by Democrats for providing tax breaks for the wealthy and not enough assistance for middle-class and low-income Americans.
The legislation is part of the GOP’s three-step plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, presented by Ryan on March 6, which also includes reversing President Obama’s expansion of Medicaid. This plan could be detrimental in California, with four million people insured through Covered California, the state’s Affordable Care Act program, and 13 million through Medi-Cal. The GOP plan would also remove Planned Parenthood from Medicaid, though sixty percent of the organization’s patients rely on federal funds to receive a wide range of medical care, from prenatal tests to cancer screenings.
Two California state senators introduced legislation in late February called the Healthy California Act, which simply declared the intent to replace privatized health care with a government funded single-payer system that would universalize health care in the state, including undocumented immigrants. Though the specifics of the plan are unclear and Governor Jerry Brown has not commented, the bill has been backed by the California Nurses Association, an influential labor union in the state. The insurance industry is sure to put up a fight, however, through well-financed lobbying efforts and oppositional campaign donations.
It might seem impossible for the first universal health care system in the United States to come about under a right-wing extremist president, but other states like New York are considering how to reduce the ramifications of hasty and insidious federal legislation through state-level policies. It will not be easy to pass or implement universal health care, but California lawmakers must use their position between the president and their constituents to ensure that the people who depend on government assistance are heard.