Everyone agrees that California’s health care system is in crisis. Seven point three million Californians, a full 20 percent of our population, lack health coverage. Costs are rising at rates far above inflation, and workers all over the state are seeing skyrocketing co-pays and declining service.
Sometimes it’s easy to think the major problems we face have no solution, and that the reason our elected officials have been unable to take action to improve our lives is because such improvements are impossible — or would cost too much money.
In the case of our health care crisis, the exact opposite is true. There already exists an effective way to solve the multiple problems faced by our health care system. The reform is called “single payer,” which means that health care costs are paid for through a single system. Paperwork, administrative costs and overhead, which are now responsible for 20 per cent to 30 per cent of our health care costs, are all drastically reduced by a single-payer system, making it possible to provide coverage to every Californian without spending any more money than we already do.
Single payer also saves money, and lives, by guaranteeing that everyone has access to primary and preventive care. This means health problems will be treated before they become serious, and overburdened emergency rooms will be free to deal only with emergencies. Finally, a single-payer system saves money through bulk buying — obtaining reduced prices through coordinated purchasing of items such as medical equipment.
Proven single-payer systems exist in numerous countries, including Canada. Canada has nearly the same population as California, but spends only half the amount of money on health care that we do, while insuring every resident. In a recent poll, 96 per cent of Canadians said they would prefer to maintain their current health care system rather than switch to a US-style “managed care” system.
Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) has introduced a bill, SB 921, the “Health Care for All Californians Act,” that would create a single-payer system to cover all Californians. SB 921 allows everyone free choice of doctors and offers prescription drugs with no co-pays, all while containing health insurance costs. Since health coverage would not be linked to employment, people who lose jobs in times of economic crisis would not be forced to suffer doubly with the loss of health care. Self-employed people and part-time workers would have coverage equivalent to everyone else’s. No one would lose coverage due to divorce or temporarily lose coverage during waiting periods when they start a new job.
SB 921 also unites many different struggles for justice into one solution that benefits everyone. Under our current health care system, serious inequities exist. People of color are dramatically more likely to lack health insurance or to have inferior policies. Many gay and lesbian couples are denied the right to health insurance policies equivalent to those offered heterosexual couples. And many workers do not have coverage, or are in danger of losing coverage, as employers seek ways to cut costs. Many low-income women do not have access to affordable birth control, pre-natal care, obstetric care and other health options.
Each group that suffers from inadequate care under the current system could struggle separately to improve their access to care — likely an uphill battle. Or we can unite to support an effective and universal solution, which provides a win-win for all of our communities. Let’s pass SB 921.
For more information, visit: http://www.healthcareforall.org.
Rebecca Kaplan was a Green Party candidate for Oakland City Council in 2000.