The consensus is clear: Our current healthcare coverage system works for no one except insurance companies and Big Pharma. Hardworking Americans are going bankrupt, delaying care, choosing between medical bills and basics like food and rent, and unnecessarily suffering and dying because healthcare is not guaranteed as a human right.
But Californians are determined to change that and, in doing so, lead the way for the rest of the nation. Nearly 500 registered nurses, healthcare activists, seniors, workers, immigrants, and business leaders converged on Sacramento today in a spirited rally to kick off a seminal campaign to win passage of S.B. 562, state legislation that would establish a Medicare-style healthcare system for all residents in California, the world’s fifth-largest economy.
“We are joined and we are going to hold everyone’s feet to the fire,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United, to huge cheers from the crowd gathered on the north steps of the Capitol. “And we’re not going to stop until every person has healthcare from cradle to grave.”
The registered nurses of CNA/NNU initiated S.B. 562 and have long championed the goal of creating a single-payer healthcare system for the nation and for the Golden State, proposing various ballot initiatives and multiple bills in recent years — two of which were approved by the Legislature but vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“If we are truly going to get healthcare for every Californian, we are going to have to invest in guaranteed healthcare for all,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara, one of the cosponsors of the bill. “Every man, woman, and child deserves adequate healthcare so that they can be part of the American dream.”
Sen. Toni Atkins, the other cosponsor of S.B. 562, gave moving personal testimony about how, growing up in West Virginia as the daughter of a coal miner and seamstress, her family was not protected by health coverage and she cannot remember a time during her entire childhood when her parents were not paying down medical debt. She said that the Affordable Care Act “moved the dialogue forward” but that the state was now “ready to take the next step” of advancing to a Medicare-for-all system. “When people see that we can do it, that we can make it happen, they will be with us,” said Atkins.
Even if the ACA survives a Trump and Republican-led dismantling, the current system is “simply not good enough,” said Dr. Paul Song, an oncologist and cochair of Healthy California, the name of the coalition that has formed to fight for passage of the bill. To hearty boos from the crowd, Song recounted how insurance rates have skyrocketed, how a quarter of every dollar spent on healthcare goes to exorbitant CEO salaries, insurance administration and overhead, and how too many of his cancer patients went bankrupt paying for treatment or died because their disease was caught too late.
“The money is there, don’t believe the lies,” said Song, referring to scare tactics by insurance companies to protect their industry. “We can no longer afford NOT to do this.”
It’s a feeling and frustration that the state’s business community understands well. Many companies and business owners support a Medicare-for-all system for California because it would relieve them from the ever-growing cost and burden of providing healthcare coverage for their workers, and it is simply more efficient and cost effective. “Hundreds of thousands of small businesses are desperately seeking solutions for their employees, their families, and themselves,” said Eric Leenson, president of SOL Economics and an S.B. 562 supporter who is working to build business support for the legislation through the group Business Alliance for a Healthy California. “Business people are seeking logical, real solutions, and this is the answer.”
Rally goers also heard from S.B. 562 backers Martha Kuhl, a pediatric oncology RN and treasurer of CNA/NNU; Dr. Sam Pierce, clinical director of Clinica Romero; Dan Hodges of the AllCare Alliance; Pauline Brooks, a vice president of CARA, the California Alliance for Retired Americans; and Chris Rak of UNITE-HERE Local 49.
Everyone understands that S.B. 562 must happen; the challenge now is mounting the public opinion campaign to force our elected officials to do the right thing. “We’re going to fight in the streets, in our statehouse, we’re going to talk to our friends, family, and people at the grocery store,” said Malinda Markowitz, RN and a copresident of CNA/NNU. “And we’re going to visit our legislators and let them know that if they don’t stand behind us, there will be hell to pay. This is going to happen, this is our number one priority: healthcare for all.”