Public Comment

Commentary: Campaign for Universal Health Coverage

By Kay Eisenhower and Robert Lieber
Tuesday September 12, 2006

History was made in the California State Legislature last month when it sent SB 840 to the governor’s desk! Sen. Sheila Kuehl’s single payer health care bill would extend coverage to all California residents for less than what is spent collectively now by employers, consumers and local, state and federal government. Patients would choose their own doctors or providers, pre-existing conditions would be covered, all needed services, drugs, hospital stays, therapies and medical equipment would be covered, and there would be no co-pays or deductibles for at least the first two years.  

How can universal health insurance cost less than what is being spent now on health care in California? Single insurer systems spend far less on administrative costs than do insurance companies — for example, Medicare, a single insurer system, keeps administrative costs under 5 percent. The Veteran’s Administration is another single insurer.  

Kaiser uses a single insurer plan to cover its members. SB 840 costs are also projected at under 5 percent, in contrast to the 25-30 percent administrative costs of the insurance industry.  

Single insurer systems use their purchasing power to cut prescription drug and medical equipment costs—SB 840 is projected to save the state as much as $5 billion per year. By taking the profit out of health care coverage, it is possible to extend complete benefits to all state residents at no additional cost.  

A single payer system would actually improve the business climate by controlling health care costs and leveling the playing field. With SB 840 all employers will pay an affordable health insurance premium and all employees would contribute their fair share (labor agreements specifying no or minimal employee contributions would stay in place).  

This arrangement should end the current race to the bottom that occurs when large employers reduce health coverage for their workers in order to stay competitive with employers that don’t offer such benefits.  

However, the governor has announced that he won’t sign SB 840! Even if he did, the insurance industry would mount a huge fight against implementation, perhaps going to the initiative process to overturn it, as they did with Burton’s SB2. That’s where the OneCareNow 365-City Campaign comes in. We are building a grassroots movement up and down the state in support of universal health coverage to defend ourselves against the special interests who profit from the current inequitable system. Community action teams in more than 365 California cities are conducting grassroots educational and public awareness events—one event per day, in a different city, for one year - to demand passage of landmark legislation that would transform our wasteful, costly and unjust health care system.  


What can you do to help?  

Join the OneCareNow 365-City Campaign, which started Aug. 12 in Morro Bay. Sept. 8 was Albany’s day! The Albany City Council passed a resolution last week endorsing SB 840, and last Friday activists tabled in the afternoon in front of the Albany Library with a petition and leaflets in support of the bill to bring attention to Albany’s efforts to support a better health care system. Albany is the first of 14 cities and towns in Alameda County in which OneCareNow events are being organized; the next local event will be in San Lorenzo, Oct. 23. The 365-City campaign will close with the Los Angeles event, with a huge rally planned for Sacramento a week later next August, 2007.  

This campaign is very ambitious with local committees forming throughout the state to plan events, get signatures on petitions, and enlist the support of local government bodies and grassroots organizations. In the Bay Area Albany has joined Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and Alameda County, along with the Central Labor Councils of Alameda, Santa Clara and San Francisco Counties as endorsers of SB 840. The California Nurses Association, SEIU and other statewide unions are sponsors of SB 840, which has also been endorsed by the California Federation of Labor and the League of Women Voters (for a complete list of endorsers check the website).  

The OneCareNow campaign is being sponsored by Health Care for All-California, the League of Women Voters, Health Access, the California Association of Retired Americans, and others. At the local level, the SB 840 East Bay Coalition includes Vote Health, the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, California Physicians Alliance, the Oakland LOWV, Hayward Demos, and several unions. Our next big event is a benefit Oct. 5 at the Grand Lake Theatre screening a new film, “The Healthcare Solution: California OneCare” to raise funds for the OneCareNow campaign.  

To join in the campaign, check the website to find the contact persons for your area! Or call Vote Health for further information at 832-8683.  


Kay Eisenhower is the chair of Vote Health and the SB 840 East Bay Coalition. Robert Lieber, RN, is an Albany City Councilmember.