On Nov. 19, the Humboldt Progressive Democrats voted to admonish state Assemblyman Jim Wood for failing to "take steps to move forward" Senate Bill 562, the single-payer, universal healthcare bill for California that is currently stalled in the Assembly Rules Committee by order of Speaker Anthony Rendon. Wood has supported this suspension even while insisting he supports a single-payer system and is "not in opposition to S.B. 562."
Emotions ran high at the meeting, expressed in passionate advocacy for and against Wood's behavior. Still, the conflict is glaring and baffling: Why isn't the bill being worked on to the satisfaction of that legislative body? Why was a "select committee" called to talk on and on about healthcare issues without mentioning this bill waiting to be addressed? There are even more of those meetings "planned" but, as yet, have no venue. What value will the meetings have unless expressed in legislation that already exists?
Earlier this fall, Wood enumerated several deficiencies in S.B. 562 that he felt warranted its shelving. They can be addressed as following:
First, he complains that rural areas will be underserved and doctors will not be incentivized to work in them. But once everyone, including rural folks, is truly covered by 562, there will be so much need for more doctors and clinics that caregivers will have plenty of work to do. Right now, rural clinics are closing because 90 percent of people who go there are poor patients who are minimally subsidized to the extent that caregivers come up short. If the playing field were leveled, caregivers would have as much incentive to work rurally as they do in the cities.
Second, Wood claims businesses are left out. In fact, under 562, businesses of all sizes will save by no longer paying employee health insurance or dealing with the morass of bureaucratic insurance tangles. Businesses would pay a proposed 2.3 percent gross receipts fee, with the first $2 million exempted. A sales tax increase of 2.3 percent would cover the rest of the cost of universally supplying high-quality healthcare, with our poorest citizens receiving a tax rebate to ease that burden. The sales tax would be more than offset by the huge savings from no more premiums, deductibles or co-pays.
This also answers Wood's concern that there is no funding mechanism in the bill. The non-partisan, 90-page Pollin Report from the University of Massachusetts has determined that this program will not only cover every resident but will save the state $39 billion. Sound far-fetched? When you cut out the middleman (corporate insurance profit, marketing, overhead, etc.), negotiate and control pharmaceutical cost, "far-fetched" will happen! Put it in the bill!
Third, Wood opines that elders would look askance at having Medicare folded into this system. Medicare as we know it has many flaws, which Wood enumerates as positive elements. Namely, besides various co-pays, 20 percent of caregiver costs must be paid for either by the elder or by purchasing private insurance coverage. Medicare today does not cover vision, dentistry or hearing — which older folks so often need. The subsequent devastating costs result in one out of four seniors going bankrupt. I submit that elders would love to have their existing Medicare folded into this system!
Fourth, Mr. Wood is correct in noting there may be a challenge to obtaining waivers from the federal government to retain our current levels of subsidy. However, current law provides that, for any state that discovers a means to more economically provide healthcare than through the ACA, subsidies cannot be withheld. Further, there are various other legal remedies and precedents to rebut such unilateral withholding.
Additionally, these objections, even if true, should not condemn S.B. 562 to oblivion. The job of the Legislature is to build and perfect a bill as it works its way through passage.
Mr. Wood, you have earned an "admonishment" from many of your former supporters. This is not censure but encouragement to do better. We have a bill on the table that is a blueprint to solve our desperate healthcare problems. Why won't you put the rubber on the road so we can activate that program instead of endless talk about alternative possibilities, already shown to be inadequate? Why aren't you working to improve the bill to meet all necessary standards? You have said proponents are "stuck on the idea of S.B. 562." It is not just an idea; it is a way forward. We recall the words of Everett Dirksen when he admitted, "When I feel the heat, I see the Light!" Mr. Wood, we hope this admonishment will warm you up. People are going bankrupt, losing their homes and dying. It's urgent. Let's work on it!
Patty Harvey lives in Willow Creek, is a retired teacher and current director of Health Care for All-Humboldt. She has been a Humboldt County resident off and on for more than five decades.
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