CalCare clears first hurdle; Ash Kalra says time to reform system held hostage by corporate interests

Ritu Jha-


California Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) has welcomed the Assembly’s health committee passing AB 1400, the California Guaranteed Health Care for All Act, on Jan 11.

“A momentous occasion,” Kalra, the first and only person of Indian descent serving in the Assembly, said in a statement. “CalCare (as AB 1400 is commonly known) has passed its first policy committee! With an 11-3 vote, AB 1400 now makes its way to the fiscal committee.”

Kalra thanked the California Nurses Association, health committee chair Jim Wood, and all those Californians who have supported the measure.

“As the single-payer movement continues to gain momentum, we signal to corporate interests that enough is enough,” the Democratic politician said. “Health care is a human right and it’s high time we reform our broken healthcare system.”

“We are getting rid of these insurance companies dictating what kind of care you should get and what kind of care you should be served,” Kalra, who introduced AB 1400 Jan 6, told indica shortly before the measure passed through the health committee.

If passed by the legislature, CalCare would offer free health care for all residents of the Golden State, regardless of citizenship status. Critics have called it a disastrous piece of legislation and predicted that it would fail.

“No, of course, this is not disastrous legislation,” Kalra responded. “No other nation does this. We’ll do it and it’s a law and it’s fiscally smart.”

Kalra has authored the Bill AB 1400. To understand and promote the Bill, last October he visited Canada, New York and Washington, DC. The Bill must clear the Assembly floor by Jan 31.

He was first elected to the California legislature in 2016 from the 27th district, which encompasses approximately half of San Jose and includes all of downtown.

In 2020, he was re-elected to his third term. Kalra chairs the Assembly’s labor and employment committee. He also serves on the housing and community development committee, judiciary committee, transportation committee, and water, parks and wildlife committee.

“Right now, insurance companies are incredibly expensive and also take tens of millions of dollars from California,” Kalra told indica. “Everybody in the state would be part of CalCare. Comprehensive care, including long-term care, which insurance companies do not provide will be covered by CalCare.”

He said the measure “will pay for your services, your doctor. You won’t have to get permission approval from insurance to pay for the medication.”

Asked what led to take the initiative, Kalra responded, “For many years we have had an unjust healthcare system. Your quality of care is dependent on how much wealth you have and what kind of job you have, but I believe health care is a human right and everyone should have high-quality health care and money should not be barricaded for that.”

Told that critics like the Bay Area Council and others are against the measure since it would raise taxes, Kalra said, “This is complete nonsense. The Bay Area Council and organizations like that are just doing the bidding of their members who are from wealthy hospitals and insurance companies.

“There are obviously going to be critics,” the Assemblymember said, “and those who try to keep us from moving forward and bring health care for everyone.”

Patrick Kallerman, vice-president of research, Bay Area Council Economic Institute, has said taxes on California businesses and consumers would be “increased a stunning $163 billion annually” under Kalra’s legislation to fund a single-payer healthcare system that has been rejected multiple times as unworkable, impractical and too costly.

Kallerman told indica, “We’re opposed to AB 1400 because it would upend our healthcare system in a way that would take decades to rebuild, including eliminating the very popular Medicare and Medicaid (Medi-Cal) programs from California, all the hard-won gains we’ve made in implementing the Affordable Care Act, and make the State the sole responsible party for administering the healthcare of 40 million citizens and a fifth of our economy.”

“It would also require historic increases in taxes, which would not even cover half of the expected $400 plus billion cost. The remaining funds would largely come from redirecting federal Medicare and Medicaid dollars, though there is no precedent or mechanism for doing so,” Kallerman said.

Explaining further said that additionally, in many ways, this legislation would be significantly more difficult to implement than the Affordable Care Act which largely relied on reforms to existing infrastructure.

“The Bay Area Council has been a strong advocate for reforming our healthcare system to improve quality, access and outcomes while also reducing costs for business and consumers,” Kallerman said. “We were an outlier among business groups in supporting Affordable Care Act reforms. But replacing a free-market system with a government-run program isn’t the answer, even if you can somehow forget the state’s middling track record in effectively and efficiently managing and operating large, highly complex projects.”

Kalra agreed that the previous measure did not pass. But on who would fund his measure, the San Jose politician said most of the money would come from federal resources and the rest from taxation. “Instead of what we are paying now, which is a lot more,” he added.

Kalra laughed off claims that his plan would lead to crowding in doctors’ clinics and increase waiting times. “Under the current system, if you want something from Insurance, how long do you have to be on the phone and how long do you have to wait to get the doctor’s appointment even though you have insurance?” he responded.

“And then you have a $5,000-$6,000 deductible. So this bill is about humanity; it’s about actually caring about your brother and sister, whether they have a roof over their head or not, or they are immigrants, rich or poor, everyone is covered.

“One thing the COVID crises have taught us, we all are connected, our health is connected and we all play a role in protecting one another,” he added.