As individuals struggle with personal finances and businesses ponder their bottom lines, state and local governments face budget deficits of historic proportions. Over seven million Californians, about one in five, have no health insurance whatsoever. Many others are underinsured. Hospitals and health plans are closing and merging, making access to health care more difficult. The cost of health care continues to explode.
There are currently three bills in the State Legislature that would solve these problems to varying degrees. I am a co-author of Senator Sheila Kuehl’s Healthcare for All Californians Act (SB 921), which would create a single-payer system for all California residents without any new spending. It would mean any one of us could walk into the physician’s office of our choice and be covered for more complete services than most HMO plans presently cover, including medical, mental health, dental, vision and emergency care. Health education and preventive care would reduce incidence of illness and alleviate the overwhelming burden on our overcrowded emergency rooms.
A non-partisan study “Health Care Options Project,” (www.healthcareoptions.ca.gov) done by California’s Department of Health and Human Services, concluded that a single-payer program is the most effective and least expensive way to provide quality care to every Californian.
A single-payer plan would provide more health care for less cost because it saves billions of dollars by reducing overhead. Current health insurance systems lose between 13-30 percent of their dollars on administration and billing costs; the simplified single-payer system would reduce overhead to less than 5 percent. As the Nation’s largest state and the world’s fifth largest economy, California’s bulk buying power is significant. The state can negotiate reduced prices for prescription drugs, medical equipment and other products.
SB 921’s single-payer plan would be financed by small taxes on payrolls, unearned income, tobacco and alcohol. Payroll taxes for this plan would be significantly less than current employer and employee expenses for health insurance. In fact, the Health Care Options Project estimates that employers that currently offer health benefits will save an average of $1,000 per year for each employee.
Our state’s economy stands to benefit enormously from a single-payer system.
One of the most compelling arguments for the Healthcare for All Californians Act is access to reproductive services. “Choice” means nothing to women who cannot afford prenatal and infant health care, birth control or abortion. This is the only legislation ever introduced in California that would ensure that all low-income women have high quality health care with genuine access to reproductive choices.
The other two health insurance bills currently in the legislature are well intentioned but less far-reaching. SB 2 (Senator Burton) does not cover people who are self-employed, unemployed or seasonal workers. AB 30 (Assemblyman Richman) does not cover the unemployed or protect those of us fortunate enough to have jobs from the unnecessary costs of their emergency room visits for routine care.
Most importantly, these three bills will stimulate debate on serious healthcare reform for the first time in my political memory. The time to address the health crises is now. I hope you will join me in advocating for SB 921. For more information, please email me at Assemblymember.Hancock@assembly.ca.gov or call my office at (510) 559-1406.
Loni Hancock is the state assemblywoman for Berkeley.