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Healthcare Access is a Human Right



Jim Wood, our state assemblymember, in his Dec. 28 Views column, "Setting the Record Straight," attempts to discredit California Senate Bill 562 and its supporters.

Wood cites many disingenuous facts.

S.B. 562 is the single payer, Medicare for all bill that has been shelved in our state Assembly by corporate Democrats without needed work or discussion. This is a bill that would provide healthcare access to every resident of California for every type of medical service.

The first blatant attack on S.B. 562 that corporate Democrats like to repeatedly state to the public is that there is no funding mechanism in this bill, therefore it is woefully incomplete and not worthy of support. Here is the back story on that disingenuous statement: After passing with a vote of support in the state Senate and going then to the Assembly, the man who immediately placed this bill on the Assembly shelf to die is Assembly Rules Committee Chair Anthony Rendon. Before this shelving of the bill occurred, Mr. Rendon, via his staff, was in discussion with Healthy California, the campaign comprised of organizations representing more than 6 million Californians committed to guaranteeing healthcare access for the residents of our state. In this discussion, Mr. Rendon's staff relayed to the Healthy California organization that the funding mechanism for S.B. 562 was something to be left to the Assembly to work through, debate and then provide the needed amendments for a funding mechanism. Healthy California agreed to this plan. However, Mr. Rendon then chose to immediately shelve this bill before any work could be done by the Assembly to add the mechanism for funding. An economic analysis of S.B. 562 done by the University of Massachusetts Amherst Economic Department and authored by Robert Pollin provides a look at how this could be accomplished.

The job of our state assemblymembers is to work this bill through their committees, including the Health Committee on which Mr. Wood serves as chair. Instead the corporate Democrats have devised a non-legislative sidetracking of S.B. 562 called "select committee hearings". Those who understand the mechanisms and value of a single payer system have been excluded from these hearings. The nonprofit California Healthcare Foundation cited by Mr. Wood as the go-to organization for facts relating to a single payer system is an amalgamation of corporate entities that includes health insurance corporations and executives and members of California's hospital, medical and dental associations, all of which decline to support a single payer system. As a registered nurse for 40 years, I believe the "no-added-value" health insurance industry has no right to be making its exorbitant profits, and exorbitant executive salaries, by denying healthcare access to those who are sick. I also believe healthcare is a human right and not a commodity to benefit corporations, their shareholders and executives.

Another disingenuous statement made concerns the federal joint funding aspect in a single payer state. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act law was challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court and the decision of the court was written in June of 2012 upholding it as law. The PPACA states that, beginning in 2017, any state is free to choose another way to provide healthcare access if it is found it to be equivalent or better than the PPACA. This includes a single payer system. The court majority also held that, while the federal government can expand Medicaid and can provide financial encouragement to states to implement the expansion, it cannot withhold pre-existing funds to coerce states into compliance. To write that it is "highly unlikely" that the Medicaid, Medicare and veterans' care funding would be forthcoming to a state implementing a single payer system is political speak to keep the masses fearful and quiet. President Trump has been unable to repeal the PPACA and it is doubtful that will happen anytime soon, if ever.

Mr. Wood touts his work on regulations for the pharmaceutical industry, making it difficult for it to randomly increase prices. While I would applaud his intentions and his work on such an issue, it does little to provide "access" to needed healthcare. It is but a band aid on the elephant in the room, which is that people cannot afford healthcare access. The unregulated costs of premiums, copays and deductibles are so egregious millions cannot access the care they desperately need. For Mr. Wood to state that those of us who support a Medicare-for-all type system use scare tactics in our information is more than disingenuous. This is spoken by an individual whose platinum healthcare insurance is paid for by the taxes the rest of us pay.

Mr. Wood states he is not sure if a government administered system can be as cost effective as private insurance. Medicare administrative costs run at 3 percent and I know of no senior who would change their Medicare for a private insurance plan. S.B. 562 would effectively banish health insurance companies from operating in the state, ensuring this wealthy industry will do everything needed to kill this bill. It has succeeded twice before. Currently, even with the PPACA, there are 3.5 million Californians still uninsured. S.B. 562 also speaks to the retraining of employees in the insurance industry who would be displaced by this law.

Mr. Wood states he is not beholden to corporate interests. I would suggest his healthcare corporate donations refute this statement. Asked recently by a constituent if he would no longer accept these corporate donations, Mr. Wood declined.

The vocal group to which Mr. Wood refers is not small. More than than 70 percent of his constituents want to see S.B. 562 passed. The complex facts and processes needed to make this happen are workable but our state Assembly chooses to use disingenuous excuses to shelve S.B. 562. Local elected officials on the city councils of Eureka, Arcata and Blue Lake, as well as the Manila Community Service District, have all passed resolutions in support of S.B. 562. Other city councils and community service districts have S.B. 562 on upcoming agendas for a vote in support. It is time to move S.B. 562 forward. Improve it, debate it, amend it. Mr. Wood needs to stop calling his constituents the uninformed minority who foist untruths on others. Mr. Wood needs to do the legislative work for which he was elected. Mr. Wood needs to work to move this bill through Assembly committees and facilitate a positive outcome for S.B. 562. Your constituents demand, need and deserve no less.

Kathryn Donahue is a longtime registered nurse and patient advocate. She has lived and worked in Humboldt County for 39 years.

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