Close to Home: California’s long road to health security

As a health care provider and chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, making health care accessible to all has been my priority since being elected in 2014.|

As a health care provider and chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, making health care accessible to all has been my priority since being elected in 2014. I have learned that many legislative proposals to fix the health care system face the ire of entrenched special interests - all protecting their own territory. It is a reality we as policymakers face when trying to do the right thing. This road has been a rocky one, but I tackle it every day and will continue until it is done.

The Press Democrat’s Feb. 9 editorial (“California needs more doctors”) pointed out one of many challenges we face. But there is good news: Gov. Gavin Newsom has shown that he will be a partner in improving health care for Californians. This inspires many of us who have been working on these issues for years.

Emerging as a champion for health care in California, Newsom’s proposals to increase coverage and affordability for many who lack coverage mirror our work from last year. Creating a unified publicly financed health care system that guarantees coverage and, more importantly, care to all Californians can’t be done with the stroke of a pen on a single bill. It’s going to be a herculean effort, and it is going to take more than one legislative session.

Newsom sent a letter to the president and Congress asking them to allow the waivers we need to move forward with a unified publicly financed system of health care delivery. This necessary cooperation with the federal government would grant us the flexibility to use our share of federal resources toward a system that could be uniquely Californian. Additionally, his proposal to tackle high drug prices through concentrating bargaining power is a bold step in addressing a critical cost area.

As I have long said, I believe health care is a right. Polls remind us that it is a top concern for most Californians. My recent work as a commissioner on the California Future Health Workforce Commission validated much of the legislation I have authored and co-authored over the past four years.

I have made it easier for small rural hospitals to hire doctors, eliminated unfair out-of-network billings practices for consumers, improved access to behavioral health services, fought to protect those affected by opioids, ensured oversight over health plan mergers and created transparency over drug price hikes and the middlemen who control formularies. This year, we will focus again on mental health, on increasing access to primary care, affordability, controlling the cost of health care and protecting our seniors and most vulnerable. In the next weeks, I will be introducing legislation to broaden the ability of highly skilled nurse practitioners to improve access, especially in rural areas of the state.

Last year, I co-chaired a select committee of the state Assembly that held hearings on how we can move toward health care coverage for all Californians. More than a dozen bills were introduced to move us in that direction. The majority of them didn’t make it because of the cost, but some did. We previously didn’t know how we were spending our health care dollars and how those costs relate to patient outcomes, but last year, through the budget, we created a searchable data base to get that information. We also did not fully comprehend how to address some real challenges - legal, constitutional and federal - that could prevent us from accessing the funding we need.

We will continue our fight down this rocky path, and my Assembly colleagues and I look forward to partnering with our governor as we work to achieve health for all in California.

Jim Wood is a member of the state Assembly, representing the 2nd District.

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