Former Vermont Governor and Policy Analyst Agree: Single-Payer most comprehensive, effective solution

Members of California Nurses Association and the Healthy California campaign held a lively rally and filled the Ronald Reagan State Office Building Auditorium yesterday in downtown Los Angeles to urge legislators to move forward with SB 562, legislation for a single payer health plan that would guarantee comprehensive health care for all residents in the state.

The public hearing titled, “Universal Coverage and Cost Containment Efforts in the United States,” was the second convened by the Assembly Select Committee on Health Care Delivery Systems and Universal Coverage. Speaker Rendon, who arbitrarily blocked action on SB 562, preventing public hearings and amendments on the bill after SB 562 passed the California Senate in June, created the committee as a stalling tactic to give lip service to the appearance of action in the Assembly. Neither the first hearings held in October, nor yesterday’s hearing included any panelists discussing single payer specifically or the primary sponsors of SB 562, the California Nurses Association. Further, the Select Committee has no power to actually act on legislation.

At a rally during a break in the hearing, SB 562 supporters criticized the hand-picked panel presentations for pushing “incrementalism,” rather than moving SB 562 forward in the Assembly, at a time when Congress is moving forward with legislation that promises to drastically alter and restrict patients’ ability to receive the health care they need.

“This is a dog and pony show and it’s got to stop! What they’re saying in there is ridiculous,” said Sandy Reding, RN and California Nurses Association boardmember. “They want telemedicine instead of real doctors to look after you. They’re suggesting things that will make it more complicated rather than making it simpler. They’re just making excuses. Speaker Rendon needs to release the bill so that our elected officials can entertain all of the amendments we’ve submitted and learn about the plan for financing.”

In the latter half of the hearing, panelist Larry Levitt, Co-Executive Director, Program for the Study of Health Reform and Private Insurance, Kaiser Family Foundation, noted that the US spends almost double per person on health care compared to other higher income countries and that the gap between the US and other countries is growing. This is not because in the US patients see their doctors more often, because they actually see them less Levitt explained. The main cause according to Levitt is because we have less regulatory control over costs than other countries.

To maximize costs and guarantee universal coverage, Levitt concluded, “The most far-reaching step would be to create a single payer system delivering health coverage through a state sponsored plan,” — a conclusion that probably horrified Speaker Rendon who is desperately searching for alternatives to single payer, nurses noted.

Panelist former Vermont Governor, Peter Shumlin, shared insights on his state’s efforts to move forward with a single payer health insurance plan during his tenure as governor.  “Any person working in the trenches knows that the toughest work is to change from the current system that is broken, will bankrupt us and is killing good citizens because you’re taking on the biggest special interests in our nation,” said Shumlin. “My goal is to insure that the work that we did, gets given to people like you who now have the power to actually get done, what we all should have and could have done, had things been a little different.”

“Many today have said they support universal health care and health care as a human right. But that is clearly not enough to guarantee health care for all in our current market based multi-payer system, said Martha Kuhl, RN and Treasurer of the California Nurses Association, during the public comment period. “In my work I witness the problems of our “system” daily. Children with cancer should not compete in the market place for care. The very idea that people who are sick can or should compete in the market place is immoral.”

“Hearing these presentations is like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic to talk about how we’re going to make the system a little bit better,” said Assemblymember Laura Friedman, a co-sponsor of SB562, in her closing comments. “What everyone’s looking for, and you see it in this room and we hear from our constituents all the time, is that they just want the certainty that they are going to be taken care of when they are sick. She continued, “The system that seems to give everyone that is single payer like they have in other countries.”

Assembly Speaker Rendon has falsely claimed SB 562 is inadequate, even though he prevented the necessary hearings and amendments for the bill to move forward last summer, and repeatedly promulgated misleading statements about the bill including that it would cost the state too much. A CNA-commissioned study found that by lowering administrative costs, controlling the prices of pharmaceuticals and fees for physicians and hospitals, reducing unnecessary treatments and expanding preventive care, Healthy California’s single payer could deliver coverage to every California resident for about $331 billion, or 10 percent less than the $370 billion currently spent in the State. This is far less than the erroneous $400 billion price tag repeatedly cited by Rendon and in mainstream media coverage of the bill.

Rendon and other opponents of the bill also claim that SB 562 can’t move forward due to Proposition 98 and the Gann Amendment. The legislature has a long history of creating segregated funding for specific needs, including the cap and trade legislation and the gas tax. Former State Senator Sheila Kuehl, author of two prior versions of single payer legislation, has publicly stated that this issue is a red herring. She said after a decade of debate over single-payer, lawmakers should be able to come up with ways to deal with Proposition 98.

“I don’t think it would actually be a problem,” Kuehl told the International Business Times.  “You would craft it so that it would not be part of the state budget. It would create a separate state health plan,” said Kuehl who is now a Los Angeles County Supervisor.

Bill supporters argue that with the push in Washington to further roll back existing health coverage, there is urgent need for California to act to protect the health and security of Californians, and that the state has a long history of considering state single payer plans.