Minnesota resurrects California's failed single-payer health care bill

Rep. Cedrick Frazier (D-Minn.) is giving single-payer health care advocates new hope in Minnesota after California's $400-billion single-payer bill died in early February.  Although Frazier's bill has not yet been scored by Minnesota fiscal analysts, assuming that California's $10,000-per-person cost and $163-billion tax increase were cast proportionally across 5.7 million Minnesotans, it would create a $23.2-billion-per-year tax increase and more than double Minnesota's entire budget.  And that's only part of the problem.

Frazier's proposal would replace private health insurance in Minnesota with an unelected board to "cover all necessary care, including dental, vision and hearing, mental health, chemical dependency treatment, prescription drugs, medical equipment and supplies, long-term care, and home care," and pay for this "free" care with a mix of new taxes on individuals and businesses, while somehow redistributing existing health care spending.

How do you provide unrestricted free dental, mental, behavioral, and long-term care to any person who resides or plans to reside in Minnesota?  As expensive as that might sound, doubling the state budget isn't enough.  California looked at cutting hospital rates 50 cents on the dollar before quietly killing the bill.

Frazier, a freshman legislator, seems at first glance to be an unlikely choice to carry the massive legislation.  He has no background in health care and does not serve on a health committee.  A quick read of the bill looks more like vague talking points.  House File 1774 creates a new Health Board to "allow patients to choose their providers, reduce costs by negotiating fair prices and cutting administrative bureaucracy, not by restricting or denying care."  That is a platitude, not something you can legislate.  The problem is that nobody will tell that to Frazier.

But if you think Frazier's bill is simply an aspirational peace offering by an idealistic politician to an energized progressive left, think again.  He is very smart, and he knows exactly what it would do.

H.F. 1774 has the backing of 34 legislators (the highest number of coauthors allowed), including the chair of the Human Services Committee, several other committee chairs, and caucus leaders.  The legislation is strongly supported by organized labor, and Frazier previously worked for Education Minnesota, the state's largest union.

On the final day of January, the California Legislature failed to bring single-payer health care to the floor for a vote, which killed the bill.  Although some partisan Democrats blame weak-kneed legislators for caving to special interests in an election year, a more likely scenario is that the legislators did their job and quietly saved their state from irreparable harm.

What's more, California Democrats enjoy a supermajority in the House and Senate.  Gov. Gavin Newsom campaigned on signing the single-payer bill.  The Biden administration is friendly to California Democrats and would likely have approved any necessary waivers for state programs. 

It is far more likely that the bill was stopped because it would have passed if it had gone to a vote, rather than because it would have failed.  That should sober legislative leaders in Minnesota, who should be careful what they wish for.

Matt Dean (mdean@heartland.org) is a senior fellow for health care policy outreach at the Heartland Institute. 

Image: Lorie Shaull.

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