By Giuseppe Ricapito, The Union Democrat.

A bill pending in the California Senate would guarantee healthcare for all under what’s known as a single-payer model — people pay into a fund, and a state agency handles coverage from there.

The idea will be the subject of two town hall meetings at the Sonora Opera Hall on Thursday, one at 12:30 p.m., the other at 6:30 p.m.

“We really think that with the federal attacks on healthcare, California has an opportunity to lead and has another path,” said Pilar Schiavo, one of the presenters and a Sonora-area native who is coordinating the campaign on behalf of the California Nurses Association. “There is grassroots energy around this. We think that there’s a real potential and a chance to do this.”

But others, including California Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, who represents Tuolumne, Calaveras and other Central Sierra counties, does not believe a “one-size-fits-all health care system” works.

“California simply cannot afford a broad health care structure, and massive tax increases would be necessary to finance this proposal,” he said in a statement released by his office. “Government-run health care will not fix California’s health care affordability issues.”

Schiavo, who attended Columbia Elementary and Sonora High schools, said doctors and nurses from the area and from Modesto will make presentations on the bill and respond to questions. Local legislators have been invited, she said.

The bill, SB 562, is sponsored by Ricardo Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens, and Toni Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego.

State Sen. Tom Berryhill, of Twain Harte, will not attend the meeting, his press secretary Matthew Fleming said. Berryhill could not be reached for comment on the bill.

Tuolumne County Public Health Officer Liza Ortiz said her office is not taking a position.

One of the evening’s keynote speakers, Dr. Bob Derlet, who ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock last fall, said he wanted to bring his personal experience in the healthcare industry to reveal “how health care insurance companies are taking advantage of folks.”

“Any step to decreasing the cost out of pocket and increasing the quality is important,” he said.

Derlet, formerly the chief of Emergency Medicine at U.C. Davis, works at the Tuolumne Me-Wuk Indian Health Center in Tuolumne.

“I support [the bill] because it will decrease out-of-pocket costs for folks and increase access to care. It’s hard to get a primary-care doctor up here in the foothills,” he said. “I didn’t want to quit medicine. I said the greatest need was for primary care doctors up here, so that’s what I decided to do.”

Derlet said he plans to present how insurance and pharmaceutical companies hurt working-class families by forcing them to pay out of pocket for care.

Schiavo said the bill would enable “90 percent of Californians to save money on health care with no more premiums, deductibles or co-pays.”

Another provision would be that Insurance companies would not be able to set high prices unless it was for “supplemented coverage,” she added.

“We pay more than any country, and our health care is worse than the majority of them,” she said. “Insurance companies and plans set prices too high. There is no containment.”

Charlotte Frazier, chairwoman of the Tuolumne County Republican Central Committee, said the bill would give a lot of responsibility to the Healthy California Board, a nine-member panel that would govern the program.

She said local Republican representatives would attend the town halls.

“It’s wishful thinking. Oh sure, we would all want everyone in the state to have this care completely paid for. I’m just not sure we are going to be able to gather together,” she said. “We would certainly like to listen and remain open-minded.”

Frazier said the payment methodology was “a little sketchy for my taste.”

Schiavo said with Democratic supermajorities in both the California Senate and Assembly, she is optimistic that a groundswell of continuing support can lead to passage of the bill.

“People are paying for insurance they can’t afford to use,” she said. “People were really interested in [SB 562], and people latched onto it.”

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