California Senate Takes First Step Toward State Single-Payer Universal Healthcare

Posted June 7, 2017

MP3 Interview with Cathy Kennedy, registered nurse and member of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee Board of Directors, conducted by Scott Harris

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As President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress push to repeal Obamacare and institute a new health care system that would cause an estimated 23 million people to lose their health insurance coverage, the nation’s largest state is moving in the opposite direction. Proposed legislation, SB 562, known as the Heathy California Act, would establish a universal, single-payer health insurance system that would provide coverage for all of California’s 39 million citizens, without out-of-pocket costs.

The measure, led by Democratic California State Sen. Ricardo Lara, won Senate passage on June 1 by a vote of 23 to 14. The legislation now goes to California’s State Assembly, where details about the financing of the proposed new healthcare system must be fleshed out. While Republican opponents of the bill say the state can’t afford such an ambitious plan, the California Nurses Association, which supports the bill, produced a study that finds raising the state sales and business receipts taxes by 2.3 percent would raise $106 billion of the annual cost, with the balance coming from state and federal funding already going to Medicare and Medicaid services.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Cathy Kennedy, a registered nurse and a member of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee board of directors. Here, she discusses the campaign to win single-payer healthcare in California, the coalition supporting the bill, and the challenges ahead for final passage of the legislation. [Rush transcript]

CATHY KENNEDY: Senate Bill 562, which is the Healthy California Act, essentially says this – it guarantees health care as a human right for all Californians, residents of California, and it provides real health security for all of our residents, which is a comprehensive benefit. Which means that you have complete choice of providers and there's no out-of-pocket cost. So when we talk about comprehensive benefits, we're talking about you know, there's not going to be any co-pays, there's not going to be any more deductibles, and that comprehensive benefit includes in- and out-patient care. It also includes dental. I think a lot of times people think that dental care is not part of healthcare, but it is. Vision, prescription drugs, rehabilitation, immunizations – all those things that people struggle with every day. Here in California, we have those that are insured and then we have some that are underinsured. And so a lot of people, with the ACA, we had more Californians that were covered under the Affordable Care Act, but because the co-pays and the deductibles were so high, a lot of patients couldn't afford to use their insurance. SB 562 would totally eliminate that. So there would no longer be the need to have any co-pays or out of pocket costs.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Cathy, what's the next step in the legislative process to move this idea of universal health care forward for the state of California

CATHY KENNEDY: We got it through the Senate, so now we are going to – this bill is being brought to the Assembly. So we need to push our Assembly members to pass this particular bill and we know that there's going to be some discussion about the financial study and such. And then once it gets through the Assembly, then it has to go back to the Senate. Again, I believe it's a two-thirds vote, both at the Assembly and then again at the Senate. And then it will go to the governor's desk.

So we have a lot of work ahead of us. But I'm telling you, in California we have so many organizations that are behind this bill. It's amazing. I've gone to several town hall meetings in northern California and people are excited. They really think that it is time. People are tired of insurance companies profiting off of healthcare and that's just not something that should happen. So people are really ready to get out and do the hard work and make this happen.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What about Gov. Jerry Brown, a fairly progressive politician over many decades. What's his view of this single-payer system being proposed in California?

CATHY KENNEDY: Well, you know what? Personally, I wonder, too, because I think for years, I think our governor, has always talked about having a single-payer system and right now he's not quite sure. And he wanted to see the financial study. We have it now and my hope, CNA's hope – National Nurses United hope, is that once the bill gets to his desk that he would sign it, because we have clearly shown through the financial study that this is possible. And families will have savings. And businesses will have savings. So I think that we just need to convince Gov. Brown that this is possible and we have the proof, and we just have to push.

BETWEEN THE LINES: One of the things that we can look to is that when the nation of Canada adopted their system of universal single-payer health care, it happened first in one of their provinces in Saskatchewan. And the system worked so well there in Saskatchewan that it was adopted federally by the whole nation of Canada. Is that something that in your dream of dreams you're hoping would happen if the roads were blocked for single-payer at the federal level, that an example set in California really could open up a lot of minds, and a great example of how the single-payer system would work well in one state, and thereby the entire country.

CATHY KENNEDY: Yes, absolutely. You know, and as you know, California is one the sixth largest economic systems in the world. In our state alone, because a lot of things happen in California, and we really want to lead the way. And so that is the reason why we are pushing so hard, along with all of our other colleagues, all the other organizations. It's a coalition and we are working together, and we are determined to make this happen in the state of California.

For more information visit Healthy California Act website at healthycaliforniaact.org; National Nurses United at nationalnursesunited.org; and California Nurses Association at nationalnursesunited.org/site/entry/california-nurses-association.

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