Locals support universal care

IN THE SPOTLIGHT<br> Representatives from the Butte County Healthcare Coalition put on a play Saturday (April 14) to show the benefits of state Senate Bill 840, which calls for universal health care in California.

Representatives from the Butte County Healthcare Coalition put on a play Saturday (April 14) to show the benefits of state Senate Bill 840, which calls for universal health care in California.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Every day this year, there’s a rally for universal health care somewhere in California. Chico’s turn came Saturday (April 14). Speakers touted the benefits of following Canada’s example of offering health care to everyone, booths offered literature, and musicians kept the mood light despite the rain.

All the hoopla was in support of state Sen. Sheila Kuehl’s bill, SB 840, which would make every California resident eligible for health-care benefits by establishing a new state agency with a commissioner and policy board. Kuehl’s plan is similar to Medicare, but is for everyone, not just seniors. According to the California HealthCare Foundation, 20 percent of California residents were not insured in 2003.

The rally was sponsored by local groups—the Butte County Healthcare Coalition and the League of Women Voters of Butte County—as well as some statewide organizations—HealthCare for All Californians and OneCareNow. The latter is responsible for the year’s worth of events across the state, which started in August.

“Despite a healthy spring rain, there was a good turnout, and a good energy,” Chico Mayor Andy Holcombe, who welcomed everyone to the event, described in a later e-mail. He’s right—the City Plaza was outfitted with tents to keep onlookers dry. The only real hitch seemed to be leakage in the dome, which scared the musicians into waiting for the rain to stop.

Kuehl’s efforts are not altogether new. She has been working on what she calls the single-payer bill for four years now—it was passed by both houses but vetoed last year by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

This year Kuehl, a Democrat from Santa Monica, hopes things will be different. “I expect it to pass,” she said by phone. “My plan is affordable. The coverage is comprehensive. Everything you think of as health care coverage is included—dental, vision, prescription coverage.”

Another of the bill’s benefits is that it would give patients the freedom to choose their doctors based on quality of care rather than which network they’re in. SB 840 went before the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday (April 18), after the CN&R went to press, but Tuesday evening Kuehl, who is chairwoman of the committee, said she expected it to pass easily.

“Several of the Democrats on the committee are co-authors of the bill, so I expect a good solid vote,” she said by phone. However, she added: “My Republican colleagues do not support it.”

Schwarzenegger has a plan of his own, which has not gone past the proposal stage. It would require all Californians to buy health insurance, something Kuehl sees as pandering to the insurance companies.

“Insurance companies oppose my bill because it would do away with them,” she explained. “They literally make billions of dollars a year in profit, all money that could go into direct health care.

“Their opposition has already influenced the governor. Because we pushed this issue into such prominence last year, he decided that he needed to come up with his own proposal, but he very carefully preserves the insurance companies’ role and profit.”

Following approval by the Health Committee, Kuehl’s bill will be brought to the Senate floor. Kuehl expects it will go before the Assembly in June.

“I think this is a great idea—its time has not yet come, but it’s on its way,” said Georgie Summers, an active member of the Butte County Healthcare Coalition who participated in a short play on stage at Saturday’s event. “This is a major social change [we’re asking for], and we need to keep working at it until we get it. It’s like women’s suffrage or civil rights—if we hadn’t kept at those, people would still be riding in the back of the bus and we wouldn’t be able to vote.”