A rally scheduled for tomorrow night at Harvey Milk Park will provide the first opportunity for Long Beach residents to hear in person the universal healthcare pitch that was introduced by State Senator Ricardo Lara on the state’s legislature’s deadline last week.
The Californians for a Healthy California Act (SB 562), in less than 500 words, lays out a vision for universal single-payer healthcare in California. The bill, which is in its infancy, was co-authored by Lara and Senator Tony Atkins of San Diego, comes at a critical juncture as the Affordable Care Act and its beneficiaries are being threatened by a Republican-majority Congress intent on repealing it.
On Friday, an event hosted by Mayor Robert Garcia, the California Nurses Association and other local organizations, will welcome Lara to Long Beach to share his vision with his Long Beach constituency, some of whom are among the 20 million Americans who could lose their health coverage if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty with what’s going to happen with the Affordable Care Act and I think the legislature should be interested in ensuring that we create a system in California that will provide healthcare for the entire state,” Garcia said in an interview. “And that I think is more important now than ever because it looks like Obamacare can be eliminated or dramatically reduced for millions of Californians.”
Garcia said that given Long Beach’s state senator’s hand in crafting the bill, it’s important that the community stand behind him and his push for universal healthcare for Californians. A Facebook event page shows over 100 people confirmed to attend the rally scheduled for 5:30PM.
The current climate at the national level and worries over what the Republicans intend to do to Obamacare has led to some health insurance providers dropping out of local markets, leading what some have referred to as a “death spiral” for the law.
While a “repeal and replace” mantra was a cornerstone of then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign, congress has moved slowly to act on his campaign promises. The most revealing look at what their replacement plan could look like was reported on earlier this month by the New York Times, showing a voucher plan that would provide equal tax-credits based on age, not income and would cut funding to states that had expanded their Medicaid programs under Obamacare.
At a rally in Sacramento Wednesday, Lara said that the state will not back down from President Donald Trump’s attacks or Republican-led efforts against American values.
“We are Californians and in California we fight,” Lara said. “In California we say we want healthcare for everyone. In California we say healthcare is a human right.”
The bill’s text is short and will certainly undergo numerous changes before it gets to the juncture where it can be voted on. It currently cites rising costs for both patients and businesses, failures by the present system that has still left some people uninsured and has deprived others of access to care because of economic factors. The bill states that all residents of the state have a right to health care.
“It is the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would establish a comprehensive universal single-payer health care coverage program and a health care cost control system for the benefit of all residents of the state,” the last line of the bill states.
While there are varying degrees of single-payer systems, the kind that Lara and Atkins are pursuing would replace insurance companies and replace them with a state-run provider.
Employers and patients would still be required to make contributions as they currently do, but instead of paying Aetna, Blue Cross, etc., contributions would go to the government, which would be in charge of administering benefits.
A person inside Lara’s office said the aim of the bill is to lower co-pays and premiums that have ballooned in recent decades, something that will result in savings for both consumers and employers making contributions on behalf of their employees.
The City of Long Beach is one of the top employers in the city, so certainly any kinds of savings that could be had from a single-payer system would help a general fund and its expenditures which have been under constant scrutiny as the city continues to pull itself out of recession-era cutbacks.
It could also remove a lot of the administrative headaches that come along with having to provide health insurance for employees, like shopping around for healthcare packages and processing employees’ annual enrollment forms.
Some of the other larger employers in the city happen to be hospitals.
Long Beach Memorial, the Veterans Affairs Long Beach Healthcare System, St. Mary Medical Center and Molina Healthcare are all near the top of the list when it comes to the number of people employed in the city.
Molina, which reportedly is also considering dropping out of the Obamacare health exchanges due to poor financial performance, said through a spokesperson that it is too early to comment on Lara’s efforts to insure all Californians
Memorial also cited the law in laying off over 100 nurses last month. A call for comment on the single-payer effort in the state went unreturned.
The bill received early support from the California Nurses Association (CNA), which was present at Lara’s rally yesterday and will co-host the event Friday night in Long Beach.
In a statement, RoseAnn DeMorro, executive director of the CNA and National Nurses United, echoed sentiments by both Garcia and Lara, that through SB 562 California has an opportunity to serve as a model for other states and prove that a single-payer system can thrive in the United States.
“At a time of critical disarray of our healthcare system, with the threatened repeal of the Affordable Care Act and increasing uncertainty over the future of healthcare coverage, services and costs, California can once again lead the nation,” DeMoro said. “This bill will set a standard in America and be a catalyst for the nation.”
SB 562 will have to wait until at least mid-March before any discussions take place and begin its advancement through the state legislature, which could take years before potentially becoming law.
For reference, a similar yet smaller effort championed by Lara, SB 4, which brought insurance to 185,000 undocumented children in the state, took about two years to matriculate from bill introduction to being signed into law.