SACRAMENTO — A sweeping proposal to replace private medical insurance in California with a single, government-run health care system has suddenly taken on sharp political edges for Democrats, threatening party unity even as it promises to mobilize voters on the left.
Supporters say “single-payer” proposals like Senate Bill 562, which the state Senate could vote on this week, are becoming a hard-and-fast litmus test for Democrats in California, and perhaps nationally — despite the long odds of one state going it alone with a top-to-bottom health care overhaul.
“From here on out, single-payer — and in particular 562 — is going to be for Democrats what abortion is for Republicans,” said Don Nielsen, a lobbyist for the powerful California Nurses Association, the bill’s lead sponsor.
Pent-up frustration over the Democrats’ inability or unwillingness to create such a system — nationally or statewide — exploded last weekend at the California Democratic Convention. Throngs of supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and other activists organized by the nurses’ union disrupted speeches and threatened to “primary” incumbent Democrats who don’t get on board.
The uprising delivered a clear message for California’s Democratic politicians: SB 562 is not just a conversation starter hastily drafted under the specter of an Affordable Care Act repeal; it must be passed and signed into law. Now.
Then, two days later, came the numbers: California would have to collect roughly $200 billion in private…
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