An Interview with Michael Lighty, Director of Public Policy, California Nurses Association/ National Nurses United

Single payer means new freedoms for workers, employers and the state economy — it’s also the difference between life and intolerable fear, suffering and death

Many myths surround single-payer universal health care. The real bottom line is that it saves California businesses and workers billions of dollars, and ends the fragmentation and complexity of the current health care system. It is also the only reform that contains costs and guarantees health care for all. Critics cite obstacles such as “federal waivers,” but these are false concerns. States have the authority and ability to improve coverage and contain health care costs under existing federal legislation, such as Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act and Section 1115 of the Social Security Act. A single-payer system, like SB 562, is especially beneficial to seniors — it doesn’t end Medicare, but expands and improves it by ending all copays and the need for extra policies to cover the gaps. It mimics the benefits of Medicare Advantage plans, but without narrow networks and incomplete prescription coverage. Under single payer, patients can go to their provider of choice for unhindered care.

Politicians’ reluctance to enact a single-payer universal health care system is nothing short of conflict of interest. That’s why physicians and medical professionals are joining together to dispel misinformation of trumped up tax increases and legal roadblocks to promote the benefits and massive savings under SB 562 — so California can lead the way in establishing a health care model that works fairly and individually for everyone.

“California will be the best proving ground,” said Michael Lighty, director of public policy for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United. “As the sixth biggest economy in the world, and with 40 million people, it’s a good model for the country. But we need to get moving.”

This means passing a piece of legislation to turn single-payer universal health care into law, abolishing the current system. One example is SB 562, or the Healthy California Act, which was stopped from proceeding into the California State Assembly in June 2017 — due, in part, to lobbying efforts by the health insurance billionaires and the privatized industry.

A single-payer universal system will do more than provide health care coverage to everyone in the state, it will also provide a huge boost to the economy. Both immediately and long-term.

“Eighty percent of businesses would be exempt from costs and pay nothing for health care, which is currently as much as 22 percent of their payroll,” Lighty explained. “Freeing up that money could get us to $15/hour in wages and fully funded pension plans.”

More money in everyone’s pockets has a ripple effect. Less money spent on premiums, copays and out-of-pocket costs means the public has more dollars to spend on local businesses and revenue streams.

“Every $1,000 in increased income creates $1,530 in economic activity,” Lighty said. “And we know low-income workers currently use a disproportionate amount of their income for health care costs.”

Perhaps even more important, employers can get out of the health care business. No longer will businesses be burdened with comparing policies, reading fine print or sacrificing coverage benefits for cost savings.

Lighty upheld that a single-payer universal system frees both employers and employees from making professional decisions that revolve around health care — stimulating California’s economy even further. For instance, Californians will be free to start their own businesses and create jobs without fear of losing their own health care coverage or bankrupting their new business with health care costs. Older employees will be able to retire when they are ready and still keep their health care coverage, opening up full-time positions in the workforce for younger generations.

“It would end ‘job-lock,’” he said, “which is the fear of losing your coverage by changing jobs.”

A single-payer universal health care system will also focus on preventive care, not profit margins like our current system.

Keeping workers healthy and productive instead of missing work — which costs California an estimated $1,700 a person, up to $28 billion a year, according to Lighty.

Even the most conservative estimates predict the state itself will save $37 billion annually by adopting a single-payer system. This will save California money while providing every resident with comprehensive coverage free from deductibles, copays and premiums.

“With single payer, we’d go from spending $368 billion to $331 billion on health care,” said Lighty.