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No way on $400 billion blank check for single-payer bill
State Senator Tom Berryhill

(Editor's note: State Senator Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor on Thursday in opposition to SB-562, a bill to create a single-payer, government-run healthcare system estimated to cost $400 billion a year, which is more than double the state's current general fund. Berryhill's entire comments follow).

Colleagues, I rise in strong opposition to this bill.

As many of you know, I survived a heart transplant 16 years ago. That required countless trips to the doctor for procedures and checkups and poking and prodding and shots and pills and, of course, more checkups.

So believe me when I say that my opposition is not to the idea of people having access to affordable healthcare - I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for access to affordable healthcare.

But I do oppose this bill, both financially and ideologically.

First, we don't have the money to pay for it.

If we cut every single program and expense from the state budget and redirected that money to this bill, SB-562, we wouldn't even cover half of the estimated $400-billion price tag.

Obviously, the state would have to generate a lot of new revenue from somewhere, but the bill has not identified any concrete sources of revenue.

It assumes money from the feds, and some form of taxes on employers and employees, but none of that is specified.
That is troubling.

The second reason I oppose this bill is because I absolutely do not trust the government to run our healthcare system.

If anyone wants a long list of reasons why I'm a skeptic, I'll happily provide it.

But here are a few examples off the top of my head:

• Remember the federal crisis at the VA system, where our veterans have literally died waiting for treatment.

• Or what's been happening at the UC system, where regents were throwing themselves a $270-a-head dinner the evening before gouging students and their families for more tuition money.

• High-speed rail is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

• There's been an endless string of failed IT projects, like Fi$Cal, which itself is hundreds of millions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

• You could look at the lack of accountability at the Board of Equalization.

• And what about water? We're just recovering from a crippling drought, which could have been mitigated by more water storage, but the approval process for Sites and Temperance Flat is causing the projects to take what feels like forever.

I could go on, but I won't.

I'm just worried that single-payer would suffer the same fate as these other projects.

I'm worried that we'll see similarly long wait times like we saw at the VA.

I'm worried that once the government becomes the sole customer of healthcare, it'll try to drive down prices with low reimbursement rates, like what's been done with Medi-Cal, forcing more healthcare providers out of the state.

And even the author's own study says the bill will cut doctor and nurses' pay by 13 percent.

This could set our healthcare system into a death spiral.

There's already a shortage of healthcare providers in rural areas and I could never support anything that would make that worse.

Of course, Californians of great means won't have to suffer from longer wait times and reduced services, as they'd have the ability to pay cash and jump to the front of the line to see the best doctors.

This would only perpetuate the growing problem of the two Californias: one for the wealthy and one for the rest of us.

I appreciate what my colleagues want to accomplish with this measure, and I am open to working with anyone on how we can protect and expand coverage, particularly to those who need it most.

But doing so on the backs of the middle class is not the way to do it.

Advocates of this bill like to say my constituents need single-payer the most, because I represent a lot of rural areas with lower incomes, weak access to healthcare providers and greater health problems.

They see my district as having some problems that only government can fix - problems often caused by government.

A lot of my constituents already have single-payer - Medi-Cal - and they aren't happy with poor access to healthcare providers.

But I tell you that most people in my district don't want more government handouts, they want jobs. They want opportunity. They want a ladder to success where at the top they have the ability to control their own destinies.

They don't want Medi-Cal; they want to be able to have the same access to doctors those of us on this floor enjoy.

Why can't we look for solutions that empower our constituents, as opposed to solutions that bankrupt the state and make matters worse?

Supporters of this bill have not identified funding sources because they want to sell people on false promises before telling them how they will pay for it.

Even if they are able to secure $200 billion from the federal government, a very big IF, they would still need $200 billion more.

They say businesses can devote funds they are already spending on healthcare to single-payer.

Fine, maybe that will work, but that leaves another $50 billion to $100 billion that the government needs to come up with.

That'll be taxes. So who will they tax? One estimate, probably accurate, suggested an additional payroll tax of at least 15 percent.

That's similar to the taxes planned in Vermont and Colorado for their single-payer proposals.

Seriously, if we can't see how that's a job killer, we have no business making decisions of this magnitude.

For many working Californians, a 15% payroll tax more than doubles their income taxes, like the European and Canadian models advocates love to hold up as the gold standards of healthcare.

It may be a "gold standard" to some, but I can tell you that Canada falls short of the United States in one area - organ transplants - which is near and dear to my heart.

Worse yet, I am concerned that when costs escalate out of control, the first thing to be rationed will be organ transplants, since, after all, they are the most expensive surgeries performed today:

A heart transplant costs nearly $800 thousand dollars - and I think we all know where the budget cutters will go first - aging Californians who need organ transplants.

Anyway, in the end, when it comes to paying for all of this, whatever government bureaucrats come up with will only squeeze the middle class even more, because lower-income individuals rightfully won't bear the cost directly, and the wealthy can always afford it.

So it'll be the middle class that once again gets stuck with a taxbill they didn't ask for and can't afford.

Colleagues, I urge you to do the right thing, the moral thing, the responsible thing, and oppose this measure.

Republican State Senator Tom Berryhill is a Ceres High School graduate and now represents the counties of Amador, Calaveras, Inyo, Mariposa, Mono, Stanislaus, Tuolumne and parts of Fresno, Madera, Sacramento and Tulare.