California should go it alone on single-payer
By Lynn Robbins
POSTED: 03/18/17, 9:53 PM PDT
Should California cover health care for everyone in our state, and save billions at the same time? Access to great health care means nothing if you can’t afford to pay for it. After four years too ill to work and surviving on my savings, long before the Affordable Care Act, COBRA insurance cost me $1,200 a month. Later, three years uninsured included a night lying on the bathroom floor alone, too sick to move and unwilling to call 911 knowing the devastating cost. Recovery took years. My savings ran out and I qualified for Medi-Cal. Now my life depends on regular care I will have no way to pay for. Do I and people like me deserve to live? This is the crucial issue of health care justice that Republicans refuse to even acknowledge.
This plan shifts costs from the government and the rich to the poor, the sick and the elderly. Mario Molina, CEO of Molina Healthcare explains rural America will be especially hit hard, since here is where health care is the most expensive to deliver. As rates rise, people won’t be able to afford insurance. Without the business, doctor’s offices and rural hospitals will be forced to close. Emergency rooms will again be overrun. Jobs will be lost. Much nursing home and maternity care is a Medicaid benefit and it is likely half of the people using this coverage won’t be able to afford it. At the same time, CNBC reports health insurance companies could realize more than a $1 billion in profit over 10 years and give top executives even more income. The Washington Post reports the top 2.5 percent of individuals will receive a 300 billion tax break over 10 years.
Even in 2016 under the ACA (Obamacare), studies showed 70 million adults had problems paying medical bills over the last year. Twenty percent of adults said they did not go to a doctor when they were sick because of the cost. Don McCanne at Physicians for a National Health Program gives more details at pnhp.org. On top of this, Steffie Woolhandler also at pnhp.org, reports that private insurers currently take more than 12 cents of every premium dollar for overhead and profit — versus 2 cents for Medicare. How many people these days have policies that only cover bankrupting crises? We need a better solution.
There is a national proposal to expand Medicare insurance to everyone, but it cannot pass in this political climate. We in California can act. Our effort to pass single-payer insurance in California has been going on for 25 years. Twice we have passed plans through both houses of our legislature only to have Arnold Schwarzenegger veto it. The state paid for a study in 2005 by the Lewis Group that found we could cover everyone and would still save $8 billion in just the first year.
With Medicare for all insurance, everyone will be covered, including the undocumented, with larger coverage including drugs, dental, vision, mental, long term care, medical supplies, complementary and alternative medicine. We will all save money as the state negotiates significantly better prices for drugs and medical equipment. Copayments and deductibles will go away. As billing departments shrink radically, doctor’s offices will again be freed to focus on caring for patients.
This bill was submitted to meet a deadline so details will follow soon. Earlier bills that passed the California legislature indicate the plan will most likely be funded by a payroll tax that’s not connected to individual employers, so people will be free to move between jobs without the fear of losing health insurance. The Republican plan will shift Medicaid dollars to the states, and this will free California’s $67 billion per year federal Medicare funds to use as we choose. We can fund this at the state level, and a new study could document this. California will save money.
State Sens. Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins introduced the Healthy California Act, SB 562, on Feb. 17 to replace private medical insurance with a single-payer system covering all 38 million Californians. Learn more about Medicare for all at heal-ca.org and healthcareforallcalifornia.org. There are lots of powerful forces that don’t want this to become reality. Please speak out supporting SB 562. Call North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire (707-445-6508) to urge him to cosponsor SB 562. Enlist your neighbor’s help and write to our local newspapers; check the length limits before you start writing. This will happen if enough of us raise our voices.
Lynn Robbins resides in Eureka.