California official eyes switch to single-payer model

California state capitol
California's lieutenant governor is looking into the possibility of expanding a universal healthcare program in San Francisco statewide.

As lawmakers in Washington debate the next steps for U.S. healthcare reform, California officials may be looking to San Francisco as a future model for the state.

San Francisco is the only place in the U.S. that offers universal healthcare, according to an article from The Mercury News. And now California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is targeting the city’s program as a possibility for the entire state. Newsom helped put the program, called Healthy San Francisco, in place when he was the city’s mayor.

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“California is in a unique and historic position to make universal health access a reality and become a model for the rest of the nation,” Newsom told the newspaper. “And I know from firsthand experience that it can be done.”

RELATED: Single-payer insurance might efficiently allocate US healthcare spending

Healthy San Francisco is available to all adults in the city who make up to 500% of the poverty level, or about $60,000 for a single person, but who do not have access to other insurance options. It’s not true health insurance coverage, though, as the program is not applicable outside of the city—so uninsured patients treated elsewhere may face exorbitant bills. The program is funded partially through the city’s general fund. Participants also contribute on a sliding scale, paying at most $1,800 a year, and employers in the city fund the rest.

Healthy San Francisco’s opponents object to the contributions they make to fund the program, according to the article. Sally C. Pipes, CEO of the Pacific Research Institute, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that backs limited government, told the publication that she resents paying for “mainly undocumented workers” through the employer fees.

RELATED: GOP healthcare bill’s failure reignites single-payer debate

As California eyes a possible single-payer option, the Republicans’ failure to pass the American Health Care Act has reopened the door for discussion on a universal healthcare system nationwide, too. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said last week that he was planning to introduce a single-payer bill in the Senate, though he acknowledged that such a measure was an incredible long shot in a Republican-controlled government.

In the meantime, Democratic leaders are calling on the party to unify behind fixes for the Affordable Care Act, even as Republicans continue to vow to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature law, The Hill reports. Sanders said last week that repairs to the law were necessary in the short term, though he said a “Medicare-for-all” system, which he pushed during his presidential campaign, should be the ultimate goal.

Nearly half of doctors also back a single-payer system, a recent study found, and some professional organizations like National Nurses United are also proponents of a “Medicare-for-all” approach to healthcare.

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