What will historic Democratic wins mean for health care?

With the announcement of Gil Cisnaros as the victor in California’s 39th CD, the Democrats have cemented a historic flip of all seven congressional seats in the historically strongly Republican Orange County. For the first time in 82 years, the county emerged from the mid-terms as solidly blue. In addition, the Democratic party made historic inroads in the state Assembly and Senate giving the party, and the new Democratic Governor-elect a supermajority in both chambers of the state legislature.

To make such major gains in the traditionally conservative county and throughout the state, Democrats campaigned hard on health care and tax reform.  As early as May 2017 the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) pounded Orange County Republicans in radio ads highlighting their pro-ACA repeal votes, as well as plans to cut Social Security and Medicare.

For the first time the DCCC opened an office in Orange County to target support from within in the stronghold. Then, in October 2017, the committee aired the first television ads hitting the Central Valley’s Jeff Denham and the David Valadao for their votes for the Republican repeal and replace health care plan. In Orange County’s 48th congressional district, real estate executive Harley Rouda aimed for and beat Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher by campaigning on Medicare for all, along with other more progressive issues like tuition-free college, and a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage.

An October 2018, analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project found that, in fact, health care was the defining issue of the 2018 midterms. The report showed that in the period between September 18 and October 15, nearly half (45.9 percent) of airings in federal races nationwide mentioned health care. For pro-Democrat ads, health care was mentioned in 54.5 percent of ads, and in pro-Republican airings the topic was mentioned in 31.5 percent of ads.

The strategy appears to have worked. The Republican’s have lost a total of 6 U.S. House seats in California so far, with a few races still tight and pending. Within the state Legislature, the supermajority ensures the legislative power to override a gubernatorial veto, which is not likely to be an issue, but more importantly it enables Democrats to raise taxes and approve bonds by a two-thirds majority without any Republican compromise.

The prospect for a legislative path with such little resistance has advocates for expanded and universal health coverage mobilizing quickly into action. Just three days after the election, a coalition of over 50 pro-universal coverage consumer and labor groups met with Governor-elect Gavin Newsom to discuss their future legislative agenda – with a path to universal coverage likely to be top of the list.

Newsom has long been a proponent of a single-payer health care system, instituting a “universal coverage” system as mayor of the city San Francisco. But since May, when legislative analysis was released showing that single-payer could cost California upwards of $400 billion, he has gotten quieter on the issue. Legislatively, the passage of AB 1810 in June heralded the legislative intent to establish a single-payer system and established a commission to study the issue taking the pressure off actual action as the study progresses.

Meanwhile, the Governor-elect has announced the appointment of Ann O’Leary, Hillary Clinton’s health care adviser, as his chief of staff and Ana Matosantos, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief negotiator for his proposed universal health care plan, as cabinet secretary, perhaps indicating that he is gearing up to tackle the issue head-on come January.