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The Mercury News

Single-Payer Provides Best Cure For California Health Care

Nurses union says SB 562 is a humane alternative to our dysfunctional and often heartless profit-based health care system.

 "Medical costs were the largest single contributor to increasing the number of people falling into poverty." (Photo: Molly Adams/Flickr/cc)

"Medical costs were the largest single contributor to increasing the number of people falling into poverty." (Photo: Molly Adams/Flickr/cc)

Imagine you are enduring excruciating abdominal pain so severe it forces you to rush to the emergency room. When diagnostic tests conclude it’s ovarian cysts, not an appendicitis, as you feared, your insurance company informs you that they won’t cover the staggering $12,596 bill.

Welcome to our dysfunctional and often heartless health care system, based on profits and ability to pay, and laden with discrimination based on gender, race, age, income and where you live.

That happened to a Kentucky woman who is “covered” by Anthem, an insurer Californians know well. Anthem is adopting a new policy to deny ER claims it deems “non-urgent,” no matter how long you have been paying for insurance that is apparently useless when you need it the most.

Welcome to our dysfunctional and often heartless health care system, based on profits and ability to pay, and laden with discrimination based on gender, race, age, income and where you live.

There is a humane alternative pending in the state Legislature: Senate Bill 562 would implement a single-payer health care system in California.

It would guarantee coverage for all Californians, and eliminate premiums, as well as deductibles, co-pays, “out of network” costs and insurance denials — all of which make far too many forgo needed care or face devastating medical bills when they go to the doctor or ER.

Only 39 percent of Americans can cover a $1,000 unexpected medical bill without incurring significant debt. Medical costs were the largest single contributor to increasing the number of people falling into poverty.

With the Trump administration’s and Congress’ assaults on the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid, it’s about to get worse. Covered California, the ACA state exchange, predicts 2019 premiums will balloon by up to 30 percent. How many Californians will see a 30 percent wage increase next year?

It would “cost $400 billion.” Wrong. Over 90 percent of that is what we already spend on health care.

State legislators have a cure at hand. SB 562 passed the state Senate but Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon has blocked the legislative process preventing public hearings or any amendments he claims are necessary.

To justify inaction, opponents have misrepresented the bill:

  • It would “cost $400 billion.” Wrong. Over 90 percent of that is what we already spend on health care.

Savings from a single-payer system — with reduced paperwork and without insurance company profits and lucrative executive pay packages — and the state’s ability to use its bulk purchasing power to lower drug costs would reduce overall spending. No other proposed “cost containment” starts with $37.5 billion in savings, as SB 562 does, and then reins in prices and costs most effectively.

A California Nurses Association-commissioned study described additional revenues that would reduce what nearly every California family and business now pays for health care while assuring health security for the 15 million Californians who today have no health coverage or pay for insurance so expensive they regularly skip needed care.

  • SB 562 would “take everybody off Medicare” — a false claim that has no purpose other than to alarm seniors. SB 562 strengthens Medicare. It eliminates co-pays seniors currently pay and covers prescription drugs, while protecting other Medicare benefits.
  • Prop. 98 and Gann limits bar enactment. Not true.  Legislators have repeatedly found ways to designate additional funding, as with cap-and-trade legislation.
  • The Trump Administration won’t authorize a waiver federal revenues. Other states have received the necessary federal waivers; the precedent for California exists.

Elected leaders who claim they favor universal coverage should make the health security of Californians a top priority. They should act now on real reform.

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Malinda Markowitz

Malinda Markowitz is a San Jose registered nurse and co-president of the California Nurses Association.

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