by Tom Condit; this article was originally published in Partisan issue no. 24, printed November 2007.
"Everybody in! Nobody out!"
Dr. Quentin Young of Physicians for a National Health Program led nearly a thousand nurses and hundreds of members of the California School Employees Association (CSEA), the United Steel Workers and other unions in chanting for a single health care system for all.
Young was joined by fellow PNHP leader Dr. David Himmelstein of Massachusetts and nurses from across the country and Canada who came to Sacramento on June 12 in response to a call from the California Nurses Association (CNA), the militant union which has been leading the fight for single- payer health care in California.
The occasion was a special showing of Michael Moore's new fi lm Sicko before members of the California legislature, followed by a rally and march to the Crest Theatre for a special preview of the film. The CNA, PNHP and Steel Workers are using Sicko as the face of a national campaign for a "single payer" health care system without insurance companies. They plan to leaflet and petition at hundreds of theaters around the country and to "dog" the presidential candidates at their campaign appearances.
"It's time for them to go!"
Sicko exposes the weaknesses of our health care system in the U.S. The private health insurance industry has long outlived any usefulness it had. Barely half of U.S. workers now have an employer-provided health plan, and worker-paid premiums are skyrocketing. Insurance company profits and overhead are growing at two to three times the rate of actual health care costs.
Yet Democratic and Republican Party politicians are scrambling to fi nd some way to keep the insurance snouts in the trough. These vary from the "Health Savings Account" scam (see Partisan No. 22) to "individual mandates" which would compel us and our families to subsidize the insurance companies, through "employer mandates" which would force other businesses to subsidize them instead, to a bewildering variety of schemes mixing private profit and tax subsidies. What they all have in common is denial of a simple reality: It's time for the insurance companies to be thrown out of the business of denying medical care to people.
Typical of these schemes is Assembly Bill X11, a joint proposal put forward by Democratic Party leaders Don Perata (State Senate) and Fabian Nunez (State Assembly). It utilizes a ramshackle collection of pieces that don't really fit together to create a high-overhead system which would only cover about three-quarters of Californians, but guarantee insurance company profits. AB X11 doesn't do anything to control runaway insurance premiums, keep companies from refusing to cover people with existing health problems, ban "junk insurance" policies with high premiums and little or no coverage, or ensure access to preventive medicine and prescription drugs.
Perata and Nunez hope to negotiate with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to come up with a unified plan. Schwarzenegger supports "individual mandates", forcing people to give money to insurance companies whether they have any money or not. This summer, he addressed an insurance company convention begging them to please lower their profit margins a little so that politicians could save them from the wrath of the people.
The Peace and Freedom Party joins nurses and doctors in supporting a universal "single payer" health care system. A "single payer" system is one where the government pays all medical bills, but patients choose their own doctors and treatment. Such a system of health care would give health care to us all and be fairer and more efficient than our present profit-based system. It would encourage preventive medicine rather than "not fixing it till it's broke." It would make us safer from epidemic diseases and help detect work-related illnesses earlier.
CNA and PNHP support the "Conyers Bill", HR 676, in Congress. It would set up a national health insurance program based on the existing MediCare program and provide all medically necessary services to residents of the U.S. and U.S. territories, without co-pays or deductibles. For information go to Healthcare-NOW (800-453-1305; www.healthcare-now.org).
State Senator Sheila Kuehl's SB 840 passed the California legislature last year, but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. This year it has passed out of the State Senate and is in the State Assembly. Like the Conyers bill, it would cover everyone. Eligibility is based on residency instead of employment or income. No one would lose coverage by changing jobs or having a pre-existing medical condition. You can get information from OneCareNow.org (888-442- 4255; www.onecarenow.org).
Take the Initiative
One reason we haven't been able to move forward with single payer health care is that our elected officials, Democrats and Republicans alike, take millions of dollars from the same insurance, hospital and drug companies who profi t from human misery. To get a system which is fairly funded and gives equal treatment to everyone, we will need to put a statewide initiative on the ballot as soon as we can. We need to pressure all of our unions and community organizations to support a campaign for single payer health care and mobilize to get all workers to vote for it.
Tom Condit was the 2006 Peace and Freedom Party nominee for California Insurance Commissioner.