San Francisco’s universal health care plan eyed as model for California

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Maria Consuelo believes she’s alive today because of a groundbreaking program this left-leaning city created a decade ago – one that guarantees health coverage to every one of its 864,000 residents.

It’s made San Francisco the only place in the country where truly universal health coverage exists, similar to what’s available in every other developed nation. Called Healthy San Francisco, it offers health care to those who can’t afford private insurance and are ineligible for other government health programs.

In Consuelo’s case, she visited a government-funded clinic in the fall of 2015 and told a doctor she had pain in her pelvis. Tests later showed cancer in her ovaries, leading to successful surgery to remove them in January 2016.

“This law really helped me,” Consuelo, a 55-year-old mother of five grown children, said while waiting to pick up some medication last week at San Francisco General Hospital. “If it could help others, that would be great.”

A similar thought is percolating in the mind of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who helped implement the plan when he was San Francisco’s mayor.

Now, two years after he launched his campaign to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown, Newsom has been wondering: Would such a program work in every county in the Golden State?

His suggestion comes at a time when proposals for universal health care are receiving a surprising amount of attention. Last week, Sens. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, unveiled details of their bill to create a single-payer system that would cover all California residents – just a few days after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders vowed to introduce a bill to launch a similar system nationwide.

Ironically, all of the universal health care buzz is coming after the GOP’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with a bare-bones substitute plan collapsed. The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that the Republican plan would have decreased the federal deficit by more than $300 billion, but increased the ranks of uninsured Americans by 24 million by 2026.

But Republicans in Congress are still vowing to chip away — if not replace — the law, commonly called “Obamacare,” which has insured five million Californians since 2014, bringing down the state’s uninsured rate from 17 percent to 7.1 percent in just three years.

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