Pushed by Unions, Single-Payer Passes Calif. Senate

Seth Sandronsky

California dreaming? Supporters of single-payer healthcare protest outside of the Anthem Blue Cross offices in September 2009 in San Francisco.

Bill now moves toward another showdown with Schwarzenegger. Third time’s the charm?

As President Obama’s health insurance reform plans lurched to a stop late last month, the California Senate passed a single-payer healthcare bill that covers all state residents and eliminates multiple for-profit insurers.

Senator Mark Leno (D‑San Francisco) is the author of the California Universal Health Care Act, which passed on January 28 by a 22 – 14 vote. The bill would create the California Healthcare Agency as the only payer of medical services from private providers. Our state is being bankrupted by out of control health care costs, and a single-payer universal health care system has been proven to save billions of dollars a year for businesses, families and government,” Leno said. 

Two female-majority unions strengthened the push for reform in California.
It is unclear what the prospects are for health reform at the national level,” said Geri Jenkins, RN, co-president of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United. But this vote offers California the chance to chart a new course for the nation.”

Females comprise about 90 percent of the 65,000 California members of CNA/NNU, a longtime backer of single-payer.

The California School Employees Association has also backed the bill. CSEA membership totals 220,000, 75 percent of whom are female. They labor as cafeteria workers, bus drivers, janitors, and secretaries in public schools. The rank-and-file earn, on average, $28,000 annually, according to Cindy Young, health policy director for CSEA.

CSEA members are paying, on average, $400 per month out of their paycheck for health insurance,” she said. Because of the state budget deficit, there is not money to pay for the increases in health insurance, with 85 percent of the CSEA collective bargaining agreements having the employers’ contribution capped.

This means that increases in health insurance cost come out of our members’ pockets. So, they pay more when they access the system for prescription drug medications and doctor visit co-payments.”

Both houses of California’s legislature have twice passed public-financed health-care reform bills before, the last time in 2008. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed that effort. Then and now, his claim is that a government-run health care program costs too much.

That defies Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data.
OECD figures show that the per capita cost of U.S. healthcare is the highest of any nation in the industrialized world. In the U.S., that cost was $7,200 in 2007, versus $3,763 in Austria, the Republican governor’s native land. Ninety-nine percent of Austrians enjoyed public health care coverage between 1980 and 2001, the OECD reports.

Back in California, the newly passed bill now moves to the state assembly, where it will be heard this spring. During his last year in office, Gov. Schwarzenegger may have a third chance to sign a single-payer bill.

Seth Sandronsky is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Race and Class, Review of Radical Political Economics, Sacramento News & Review and Z Magazine, among other publications. He lives and writes in Sacramento, Calif., and can be reached at ssandronsky@​yahoo.​com.
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