STOCKTON - They don't consider it socialized medicine. They call it civilized medicine.
Their latest rallying cry is single payer, and they're in a pitched battle against private health insurers, the industry's legion of lobbyists and the political establishment they support.
To some members of Single Payer San Joaquin - the home-grown, grass-roots group of activists pushing for passage of state (Senate Bill 810) and federal (House of Representatives 676) legislation that would implement publicly financed health insurance for everyone - it's an all-out moral war in which the very health of the nation is at stake.
Here's what some of the members of Single Payer San Joaquin have to say about why they are so passionate for their cause:
» Paula LeVeck: "Essentially, we are the only nation that does not guarantee public health care. I don't think there is anything more important than providing health care for human beings."
» Cynie Downs: "I resent when I call my doctor's office to make an appointment and they ask who my insurance company is before they ask who I am. We're at the mercy of those corporations."
» Sara Cazares: "I find it really horrific that 62 percent of bankruptcies (in 2007) are due to people having medical issues - and 78 percent of them had health insurance."
» Cate White: "Everyone should have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How can you have that when you don't have health care? It's hypocritical."
» Stanley Thomas: "Health care is viewed as a commodity - like buying a house or a new car - rather than a public good. The cure is public financing (single payer) and private delivery for the nation's health care system."
Retired San Joaquin County health director Roger Speed is co-chairman - Jerry Bailey is the other co-chairman - of Single Payer San Joaquin, which conducts monthly meetings to discuss progress on the legislation it supports, learn about the latest health care reports and plan actions such as the recent public rallies in front of the Stockton offices of state and federal lawmakers.
"As health director, I became intimately involved in seeing how financing can divide the health care debate. The county Board of Supervisors was essentially acting as the board of directors of San Joaquin General Hospital, and they were always concerned about money," Speed said.
"Thirty percent of the people who come into San Joaquin General Hospital can't pay their bill. A single-payer system, in my view, would relieve that completely. If they are residents of California, they would be insured, and the county would be relieved of diverting all that general fund tax money to the general hospital," he said.
Speed explained that the county is responsible for indigent care - covering the health care costs of the disenfranchised poor who don't qualify for government-funded insurance such as Medi-Cal, Medicare or Healthy Families. A universal, single-payer system would alleviate that burden on county finances, he said.
Vinh Pham, 26, a part-time school district employee from Stockton, said he got involved with Single Payer San Joaquin partly out of a sense of idealism and what he has experienced as a young adult who is uninsured simply because he can't afford the premiums charged by health insurers.
"This is important for society. I am not covered under any plan, but even with insurance, they are there for the profit, not for my health," Pham said.
Under the mantra, "Everybody in, nobody out," single-payer activist Carol Bailey of Stockton attacked the denial of care that people with private health insurance face daily.
"Catastrophic or chronic illness can cause an insured person to hit their maximum allowable coverage amount and then be denied care. ... With private insurance, the smaller the risk pool, the greater the cost to consumers," Bailey wrote in a Single Payer San Joaquin handout, noting that small risk pools also cost small employers more, and it leaves taxpayers to cover costs for the uninsured and underinsured.
Her solution: A single-payer system that allows everybody in. Looking at California as one big risk pool, rates would come down as everyone shares the costs of health care. And with the government in control, there would be transparency in the administration of services.
Bailey - who is equally active with the California Alliance for Retired Americans, which also advocates for a single-payer solution - noted that many workers ages 50 to 64, an age when many people start experiencing health problems, go uninsured or pay a higher rate for health insurance because of pre-existing conditions.
In addition to providing access to health care throughout one's lifetime, the single-payer system would focus on preventive care and provide access to health education when it's most critically needed, she said.
"Nobody is denied care because of previous illnesses, surgeries or hospitalizations. It expands the original concept of Medicare to include all," according to Bailey.