CA Legislator Ash Kalra Meets With Single-Payer Leaders in Canada, NYC, and DC on “CalCare Policy Tour” for AB 1400

Asm. Ash Kalra in front of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services headquarters before meeting with HHS officials

A few weeks ago in late October, California Assemblymember Ash Kalra embarked on what he dubbed a “CalCare Policy Tour” to Canada, New York, and Washington D.C. to gather information and build connections in support of his single-payer health care bill AB 1400, the California Guaranteed Health Care for All Act, aka CalCare.

The California Nurses Association (CNA)-sponsored bill was introduced earlier this year by Kalra, along with Assemblymembers Alex Lee and Miguel Santiago, and 16 additional coauthors. The statewide single-payer movement is preparing for the bill’s highly anticipated return to the legislature in January.

On his trip, Kalra met with Canadian health administrators and elected officials, NY single-payer activists, the lead author of the NY state single-payer bill, members of Congress, and Biden’s Health and Human Services (HHS) Department. According to Kalra, the tour provided a unique opportunity to discuss and advocate for a single-payer health care system with key leaders and staff and to learn from policy experts on different health care delivery and payment systems.

In Canada, Kalra arrived in Deep River, a rural town in Ontario where he lived as a child for a few years. He was welcomed by Deep River Mayor Sue D’Eon who helped organize meetings with Canadian health care providers to learn how their single-payer health system delivers care to its residents and how the system provides incentives for providers to serve rural areas of Canada.

Asm. Ash Kalra meets with Canadian health care leaders.

Assemblymember Kalra also visited Toronto, where he had a series of meetings with academics and government officials at the provincial and federal level. He met with Professors Michael Widner and Raisner Deber from the University of Toronto, who gave an overview on how Canada’s system compares to the U.S. Multi-Payer System. He also met with officials from the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, a publically funded universal health plan, to discuss Ontario’s health care system and financing mechanisms.

Kalra said it was interesting to note that the Canada Health Act constitutionally empowers states to run provincial systems with financial support from the federal government. While there are basic tenets that each province must satisfy to ensure comprehensive and quality care, ultimately, it is the individual provinces that set-up their unique systems.

The tour went east to Quebec City, where Assemblymember Kalra was graciously greeted by Melanie Zimmerman, the U.S. Consul General in Quebec City. He was later greeted by a delegation from Quebec’s Ministry of International Relations and La Francophonie and Ministry of Health and Social Services.

Quebec maintains a stance of fierce independence from the federal government and further established the control of provinces over health care systems. Kalra noted that the provincial variety of health systems was exemplified by the Quebec system providing for pharmaceuticals, something unique from other provinces.

Returning to the United States, Assemblymember Kalra arrived in New York City to build the bridge between California and New York’s respective state efforts in the Medicare for All movement. He met with-long time New York Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, often referred to as the “Godfather” of New York’s single-payer bills, to share the history and challenges faced with passing a single-payer health care bill despite Democratic majorities. New York’s current bill, the New York Health Act [A.6058/S.5474], like AB 1400, is still going through the legislative process, and it is strongly supported by a diverse coalition. Kalra later met with organizers from the Campaign for New York Health to hear how people are engaging in progressive activism to push for the New York Health Act, and he thanked them for their tireless efforts.

Asm. Ash Kalra with Congresswoman Katie Porter

Closing out the last two days of the CalCare Policy Tour in Washington D.C. with a wealth of knowledge from Canada and New York, Assemblymember Kalra had a series of productive meetings and check-ins with Congressional leaders and representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Starting with California’s U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, a longtime proponent of single-payer, Kalra said that the Senator was eager to hear the steps being undertaken in California. Assemblymember Kalra was also able to connect with key Congressional supporters of the Medicare for All movement, including Congresswoman Katie Porter and Congressman Ro Khanna.

After meetings with Congressional leaders, Assemblymember Kalra met with HHS staff to understand the steps for states considering federal waivers to capture federal funding for the purpose of a state-run single-payer health system. According to Kalra, the main takeaway from the meeting was the reaffirmation that state legislative action is necessary for a state to apply for federal waivers. He said the ongoing assistance offered by the Department was encouraging and provides opportunity for constant feedback from our federal partners as AB 1400 makes its way through the legislature.

US Senator Alex Padilla with Asm. Ash Kalra

Assemblymember Kalra said that the information gathered and lobbying done during the CalCare Policy Tour will complement the work of the CalCare campaign and other single-payer health care movements around the nation. He returned home to California “more energized and motivated than ever to bring single-payer health care to all Californians.”

Sign the CalCare petition to support AB 1400 and get involved in the CalCare campaign. For more information, visit Assemblymember Kalra’s AB 1400 website or read CNA’s CalCare resources doc.

National Nurses United is the largest union of nurses in the US. NNU is leading the fight for Medicare for All on behalf of our patients and our communities.