Still single

California’s good medicine for health care

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento resident and frequent SN&R contributor who believes equality of health care should be a birthright for all Californians.

Go to to find out more about the campaign for single payer health care.

The health-care business loves politicians who love it right back with their version of the proper kind of reform. Three top lovers are Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state legislature’s Democrat leaders, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata.

If health care must be reformed—and the people insist it must—insurers want reform that shifts dollars to them to offset loses caused by a slide in their employer-based business, which has been blamed on soaring prices. The governor’s plan to mandate health insurance for all differs from the Núñez and Perata-supported proposal that Schwarzenegger vetoed on October 12. Their Assembly Bill 8 has different insurance requirements.

But here is the deal: Neither reform, Schwarzenegger’s or Núñez/Perata’s, gets at the root cause of the health care problem. Here’s why: Investors own the big health-insurance firms. What the insurers don’t spend on health care is profit for investors, elected by nobody. To protect their profits, investors fund politicians of both parties to protect them from raids on their investments.

Managers for investors’ money have a legal responsibility to them. That puts investors’ needs first and—in the case of a private insurance-based health-care system—patients’ needs second (if even that high).

Wealth before health: that’s the law!

So a health-care system with a profit motive is the problem, and yet the governor and two top Democrats perpetuate it with their reform “solutions.”

There is a better way to fix the broken system, and it involves two words you haven’t heard around Sacramento lately:

Single payer.

State Senator Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 840, the California Health Insurance Reliability Act. Under SB 840, the state government would become the single payer or middleman between patients and their doctors, hospitals and clinics.

Of course, single payer eliminates that for-profit role for insurers, who contribute mightily to the governor and legislators—yes, even those supposed business buzz-killing Democrat leadership.

Lock-stepping Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 840 after the Democratic-controlled Legislature passed it in September 2006. (Democrats went against the wishes of their candymen in the insurance industry, but as they voted, thousands of Sacramento County employees walked off their jobs partly to protest the rising costs of health care.)

Kuehl’s single-payer plan had its day in the 2007 media sun thanks to the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee. The labor union, which backed a single payer health care measure on the 1994 state ballot, turned out its female-majority membership to the debut of Michael Moore’s film Sicko in Sacramento’s Crest Theatre this past spring. Earlier that day, Moore testified to the Legislature about the failures of the health care system, citing the harm for-profit insurers cause ill people when delaying and denying them medical care.

The CNA/NNOC, which joined the AFL-CIO in March, still backs SB 840. But the AFL-CIO’s California Labor Federation supports AB 8, which keeps private insurance in the health-care game. This split demonstrates that what’s good for working people isn’t always the top priority of a labor movement hierarchy that’s entrenched in the same Democratic Party that cashes the health-care industry’s checks, just like the governor and GOP.

Thus, SB 840 and the single-payer concept began to fade from the media radar screen at the Capitol in July. SB 840 becoming the law would be the end for health insurers. That would end their donating to politicians and buying ads from media outlets. These powerful interests have millions of reasons to maintain status quo.

Under single payer in California, there would basically be an expansion of what exists now under Medicare, the federal program for the elderly. There’s no profit motive in the delivery of health care under this single-payer system, which Michigan Democrat Congressman John Conyers’ HR 676 bill would extend to all U.S. citizens. Crucially, the cost to administer Medicare is a small fraction of what private health insurers cost.

Medicare is not socialized medicine, just a single payer for medical providers: chiropractic, dental, emergency services, hospital, home health, infant maternal and long-term care, mental health, outpatient services, physical therapy, prescription drugs, primary and preventive care, rehabilitation (extending to substance abuse), surgical and vision care.

Though you rarely hear much about it, SB 840 is not dead yet. It will move forward at the Capitol in January, according to Sara Rogers, a Kuehl consultant. Meanwhile, grass-roots support is growing for a California constitutional ballot initiative in which voters can decide the fate of a single payer health care measure in November 2008.

“The California Health Security Plan would be free—no co-pays, no deductibles, no premiums—and would provide quality health care to all Californians,” says proponent Jim Smith, who expects to have petitions ready to sign this month.

You owe it to your health to find a pen and sign one.