Pushing for single-payer

National single-payer advocates show Chico how it’s done

Donna Smith told the 100 or so people gathered in Chico’s Trinity United Methodist Church that she is living proof of the failure of our nation’s for-profit health-care system.

As presented on the big screen in Michael Moore’s 2007 Oscar-nominated documentary SiCKO, Smith and her husband, Larry, after years of hard work and savings, were stricken with health ailments—she with uterine cancer and he with severe heart problems. Though fully insured medically, she said the gaps in that coverage forced the couple to file for bankruptcy and move into their daughter’s storage room after selling off their cherished home.

“The scarlet letter ‘B’ for bankruptcy will never be removed from our names despite the seven-year rule to do so,” Smith said, “Lenders and potential employers regularly judge you based on whether you’ve ever filed bankruptcy.”

Smith was one of two featured speakers on the California Health Care Justice Tour that stopped in Chico on Monday, Oct. 24, to promote universal, single-payer health care. Tour leader James Haslam, director of the Vermont Worker’s Center, showed how cooperation between his and other progressive Vermont groups led to that state’s passage of the historic May 2011 single-payer health-care bill. It laid the groundwork for a series of steps designed to create the nation’s first single-payer system by the target date of 2017. It’s being touted as a model for other states.

The 10-stop tour started in Los Angeles on Oct. 18 and was the kick-off for the Campaign for a Healthy California, which is dedicated to bringing single-payer health care to the state. Chico was the tour’s final stop. It was hosted by the Butte County Health Care Coalition, a CHC member that just celebrated its 20th anniversary promoting single-payer health care.

The church auditorium featured tables of single-payer supporters, including the League of Women Voters, the California Nurses Association and the Shalom Free Clinic.

Haslam said his Vermont Workers Center began its drive for the bill in 2008 by promoting a cause titled “Health Care Is a Human Right,” which argued that health care is a basic need and not simply a privilege for those who can afford it. At the time, Haslam said, no one, including politicians, thought such a bill could succeed. The group was undeterred and kept building its network, he said, eventually holding a huge rally in support of the bill at the state capitol, the biggest in Vermont history.

“Too many politicians run for office claiming they support single-payer coverage but after election say it’s not politically possible,” Haslem said. “It’s clear to us they’re really making money from the health-care industry.”

The bill was signed into law by Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who, Haslam said, was elected to the governorship by running on a political platform of single-payer health care.

A short video documenting the push for the bill’s passage was also shown.

The two speakers were preceded by four local health-care advocates who gave brief talks also favoring overhaul of our current health-care system.

They were Evan LeVang, executive director for Independent Living Services of Northern California; Noah Ferns, a senior at Chico State who is organizing a single-payer campus group; Dr. Aldebra Schroll, who said she quit private practice out of disgust for the profit-driven health system and now works as a doctor for Chico State’s Student Health Service; and David Welch, a cardiac-care nurse at Enloe Medical Center and labor negotiator for the California Nurses Association.

Welch argued that a fair health-care system can be created only in a society with just tax and housing laws.

Both Haslam and Smith sympathized with and touted the benefits of the national Occupy Wall Street and related Occupy protests worldwide. Haslam said the 1,500 international Occupy protests on Oct. 16 were a shining example of how common people can unite behind myriad progressive issues to make a huge impact. He said he will be joining the Occupy movement in New York within two weeks.

Haslam cautioned that battles over the Vermont bill’s details lie ahead, such as the specific financing and facilities that are needed.

“The biggest lesson we’ve learned throughout this quest is that we can’t let politicians decide what’s best for us,” he said.