While Schwarzenegger’s healthcare plan languishes, California State Senator Sheila Kuehl will re-introduce her historic SinglePayer bill tomorrow. It landed on Arnold’s desk last year and it will land there again--except this year he has promised to finally deal with the healthcare crisis. Elsewhere, Republican and Democratic Governors are fighting Washington for their healthcare dollars, indicative of the national consensus for reform, but the Cook County Board of Supervisors drops the ball by fighting for their patronage jobs instead. Meanwhile bloggers and editorialists check in on the state of healthcare reform in this country.
The battle for genuine healthcare reform is shifting now to California, where tomorrow Sen. Sheila Kuehl, hero of the SinglePayer movement, will re-introduce SB840, the nation's signature SinglePayer bill. It was vetoed by Arnold Schwarzenegger last year even though, as Senator Kuehl remarks,
“SB 840 represents the gold standard for healthcare reform—the plan that will move California into healthcare solvency and security, not only for ourselves, but for the generations that will follow.”
The time for this bill is now:
Universal health care is possible. Polls are showing that 60% of Californians now support a publicly funded universal health care system over the current system. The conversation is steering away from whether we need to enact such a system in favor of how. SB 840, the California Universal Healthcare Act, is a very important step forward in this because it answers the how.
Here’s how it works:
SB 840 is the only proposal that establishes universal, affordable, comprehensive health insurance for all Californians and that guarantees the right of each patient to choose his or her own doctor. SB 840 replaces insurance companies with a state-wide trust fund that collects premiums paid by employers and individuals, sharing the responsibility for funding. This reduces the administrative portion of California's healthcare costs from nearly 30% to under 10%. With everyone in one risk pool, no one is denied coverage for a so-called pre-existing condition. Consumers are free to change jobs; start a business; go to school or start a family without losing the doctors they trust.
So what about Arnold? He has promised to bring universal, affordable coverage to California. His mask briefly slipped off this weekend, when he made a slightly different promise in reference to the insurance companies: “You must let everyone make their profits.”
Nonetheless, he hopes to make his legacy with healthcare reform. His problem is that his plan won’t work. Legally, he won’t be able to mandate employers provide their workers with health care. Practically, he won’t be able to mandate individuals to purchase insurance they can’t afford. And financially, the numbers don’t add up.
It’s interesting to note that Mitt Romney’s plan in Massachusetts is also facing severe problem; he over-promised and under-delivered. Unfortunately for Schwarzenegger, RomneyCare was his inspiration. Here’s one of many articles detailing the Massachusetts mess, in which a conservative activist notes “RomneyCare is in the intensive care unit, soon to be wheeled into hospice.”
This kind of uncertainly is leading to legislative trouble for Schwrazenegger. He has yet to find a sponsor for his bill, much of the state is still sitting on the sidelines watch the drama unfold, and it is entirely unclear that his plan will even get out of committee. Moreover, the California Nurses Association today unveils a wide-ranging] media campaign to shape public opinion about the Governor’s plan, and spread the word that it is an insurance industry giveaway barely pretending to address the problems of cost and access of healthcare. The San Francisco Chronicle writes:
The ads are strong and striking in a political arena that so far has treated the governor's health care plan with kid gloves.
Although a lot of interest groups have expressed doubts about parts of the governor's plan, there's been little public criticism. Many groups, like the Service Employees International Union and the California Chamber of Commerce, have said that they are withholding judgment until the legislative process takes it course and at least, so far, are willing to work with the administration. The nurses do not appear interested in being part of that effort.
"We will never be a part of any plan that benefits only the big insurance companies," said Chuck Idelson, association spokesman.
Schwarzenegger will have to choose between affordable, universal coverage under the SinglePayer system proposed by Senator Kuehl or breaking his promise of healthcare reform. The movement for SinglePayer healthcare runs through the California legislature for the next few months.
Around the country, despite the strong public mood for an increase in healthcare, much of our public health system is in deep peril. A bi-partisan coalition of Governors is raising a red flag about underfunding of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, a stop-gap program which helps millions of families.
The program in question, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, covers more than six million children in families that have too much income to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy private insurance.
Karen A. Smigielski, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said her state had a federal allocation of $48.6 million this year, would run out of money in July and would need $15 million to continue the program as it is.
In a separate letter to Congress, the National Governors Association criticized a Bush administration proposal to cut federal Medicaid payments to public hospitals and nursing homes. The White House says the changes are needed to ensure the “fiscal integrity” of Medicaid and to curb “excessive payments.”
It is extraordinary that Republican governors are forcing a confrontation with a Republican President over a healthcare issue. Are we seeing healthcare emerge as the new third rail of American politics—the issue that no candidate dares to fail on?
If so, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger in Chicago hasn’t gotten the message. Many of Cook County’s 5.2 million residents rely on their public health system, which is among the best in the nation. Not for long, if Stroger has his way—his new budget would cut nearly 10% of the system’s nurses and close half the clinics, while maintaing 400 high-paid patronage jobs doled out by the politicians.
The County’s RNs, represented by the National Nurses Organizing Committee, promises a furious fight-back. Watch this one.
Finally, the Agonist notes why market-based health insurance simply CANNOT work, USA Today notes that we are approaching a choice: change the employer-based system of healthcare or junk it, and an insurance corporation executive argues that it’s not his bloated industry driving costs in our healthcare system—it’s those darn, sick patients!