Gubernatorial hopefuls look to health care for election edge

by Pauline Bartolone

California’s leading gubernatorial candidates agree that health care should work better for Golden State residents: Insurance should be more affordable, costs are unreasonably high, and robust competition among hospitals, doctors and other providers could help lower prices, they told California Healthline.

What they don’t agree on is how to achieve those goals — not even the Democrats who represent the state’s dominant party.

“Health care gives them the perfect chance to crystalize that divide” between the left-wing progressives and the “moderate pragmatists” of the Democratic Party, said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California-San Diego.

Consider the top two Democratic candidates, who both aim to cover everyone in the state, including immigrants living here without authorization.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom — billed as a liberal Democrat — supports a single-payer health care system. That means gutting the health insurance industry to create one taxpayer-funded health care program for everyone in the state.

But former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has called single-payer “unrealistic.” He advocates achieving universal health coverage through incremental changes to the current system.

Under California’s “top-two” primary system, candidates for state or congressional office will appear on the same June 5 ballot, regardless of party affiliation. The top two vote-getters advance to the November general election.

A poll in late April by the University of California-Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies puts Newsom in first place with the support of 30 percent of likely voters, followed by Republicans John Cox, with 18 percent, and Travis Allen with 16 percent. Trailing behind were Democrats Villaraigosa, with 9 percent, John Chiang with 7 percent and Delaine Eastin with 4 percent. Thirteen percent of likely voters remained undecided.

Health care is in the forefront of this year’s gubernatorial campaign because of recent federal attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would have threatened the coverage of millions of Californians, said Kim Nalder, professor of political science at California State University-Sacramento. California has pushed back hard against Republican efforts in Congress to dismantle the law.

“There’s more energy in California around the idea of universal coverage than you see in lots of other parts of the country,” Nalder said. Democrats and those who indicate no party preference make up almost 70 percent of registered voters. Those voters care more about health coverage than Republicans, she said.

“Whoever is most supportive [of universal health care] is likely to win the votes,” she said.

The top Republican candidates, Cox and Allen, are not fans of increased government involvement, however. They favor more market competition and less regulation to lower costs, expand choice and improve quality.

“Governments make everything more expensive,” said Cox, a former adviser to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich during his presidential run. “The private sector looks for efficiencies.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

KFF Health News

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KFF Health News is one of the three major operating programs at KFF. KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation. KFF Health News reports on how the health care system — hospitals, doctors, nurses, insurers, governments, consumers — works. In addition to this website, our stories are published by news organizations throughout the country. Our site also features daily summaries of major health care news.

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