The real bogeyman in the healthcare debate

Thanks go to the Sac. Bee’s editorial today on pointing out that progress in dealing with the serious healthcare crisis in California-and nationwide is that government is not the bad guy that the Bush/ Schwarzenegger team try to portray but that government has a proven track-record on this issue (with Medicare and Medicaid as obvious examples) and will continue to demonstrate that it has a very important role in the solution.
We here at Speak Out California believe it is critically important to scratch off the thin veneer the Bush spin machine has created in order to mislead Californians into believing that the Governor is “moderate” and not beholden to the same special interests that control the Bush administration’s shameless pro-corporate agenda. The fact is that this Governor is completely beholden to the same large corporate influences, among them the same insurance giants that are fighting against making health care available to all Californians because it will, by necessity,pull the plug on their corporate greed.
In order to get the full and complete picture of SB 840 and the Governor’s complete dishonesty in characterizing the terms of the measure, we asked Andrew McGuire, the Executive Director of Health Care for All-California to give us his thoughts on this important and ground-breaking effort to bring real health care REFORM to our state. Here are his observations and a call-to-action for all Californians who believe the time has come to take the profit out of healthcare and give Californians the opportunity to have healthy lives for themselves and their families:

“Shameful Act by the Governor”
Governor Schwarzenegger has declared that he will veto SB 840 (Kuehl), the historic legislation that will, in time, provide all Californians with health insurance. As the Executive Director of Health Care for All—California, a co-sponsor of the Kuehl bill, I wish to declare that we expected this unwise decision and are not deterred by his action. We know that our current health care nightmare can only be solved if the voice of a majority of Californians is heard in Sacramento. To that end, we have launched our grassroots effort, called the OneCareNow Campaign. Before I describe the Campaign, I must correct the Governor on several points.
I am outraged, not only by his veto, but by the false and downright deceptive comments the Governor has made about this sensible solution to insuring the 7 million Californians who are uninsured and the 8 million who are underinsured. This is tragic, immoral and shameful.
Relying on dissembling scare tactics from the health insurance industry, the Governor, in an article he penned for the San Diego Union-Tribune, warns of “socialized medicine” and “government-run” health care in Senator Kuehl’s plan. The Governor surely knows that these terms scare voters and are inaccurate. First of all, “socialized medicine” refers to a system in which the government owns and operates hospitals and other medical facilities and employs doctors, nurses and other health care workers. This is not what the Kuehl bill mandates. SB 840 provides a system that handles the intake and outlay of money in an efficient, not-for-profit manner. Senator Kuehl’s plan will leave our current doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers in place, free to operate privately, just as they do now. And all of us will be free to choose our health care givers, something that the private insurance industry doesn’t always allow. As an aside, it’s interesting that we don’t refer to our essential public services as “socialized fire departments” or “socialized police departments,” even though that is an accurate description, since professional firefighters and police officers work for the government in government owned buildings. Moreover, it’s more than a little curious that the Governor would write such inflammatory statements about “government run” universal health insurance when he touts in his article that he helped increase funding for the Medi-Cal and Healthy Families programs. Those are government-run insurance programs.
The Governor says that the bill would cost billions of dollars more in new taxes. Not true. An independent analysis of the Kuehl bill by the Lewin Group (see has shown that, when enacted, we will spend approximately $8 billion less, after the first year, on health care and the savings will be larger still when the State engages in bulk purchasing of drugs and medical devices, creates an electronic medical data base like the Veterans Health Administration uses, provides mental health, alcohol and drug treatment, and promotes disease prevention and health promotion.
The Governor goes on to declare that Senator Kuehl’s bill would create a vast “bureaucracy.” The current system couldn’t be more unwieldy or bloated, resulting in a bureaucracy that verges on the immoral. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have insurance know the nightmare of claims being arbitrarily or “accidentally” denied, of coverage that runs out or is lost because of a change in employment, and of incomprehensible billing statements. Many of us don’t even qualify for minimal insurance, having been excluded by the ever-rising cost of being insured or by a “pre-existing condition”–a cruel phrase created by the U.S. health insurance industry and used no where else in the world. And then there are the co-pays and deductibles–at best barriers to seamless coverage; at worst, insurmountable hurdles for the millions of Californians who live paycheck to paycheck. There are literally thousands of different health plans that patients and doctors must contend with, but none of them offers the affordable, comprehensive coverage that people need and the Kuehl bill will provide.
There is one phrase that tells you all you need to know about the health insurance industry. They refer to the payments they make to doctors, hospitals and other providers of health care as “medical losses.” And as a stop loss solution, the sicker their customers get, the more they must cast them into the world of the uninsured. That’s a clear indication of why they are in business. It is not to provide health care; it’s to make money, pure and simple.
The health care system that is ill treating all of us and dulling our competitive edge in the business world is awash with money. We spend more per capita on health care than any other single nation. But when private insurance companies spend up to 30% of every health care dollar on administration, profits and marketing, everybody but the insurance industry loses. This is in sharp contrast to our government-run Medicare system–our single-payer health insurance system for those 65 and older–which is not in the business of profiteering and spends less than 3% on administrative costs. Similar, in this regard, to the Medicare model, the Kuehl plan puts a 5% cap on administrative costs.
So why is a Governor, who says he will listen to the people, vetoing SB 840–a bill that would provide comprehensive, affordable health insurance to all California residents? According to the California Secretary of State’s records, Governor Schwarzenegger has received nearly two million dollars in contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. (Others say the donations total four million dollars.) That’s why he is vetoing SB 840; it appears to be nothing more than payback for cash. But the Governor knows that universal health insurance is favored by 61% of the voters (ABC/Post Poll) and the bill itself was passed by 62% of California’s legislature. In my world, that’s a majority. And this is a democracy, right? So where do we go from here?
The questions we must ask ourselves are: how, in a democracy, do we counter the millions of dollars of campaign contributions to politicians and, more importantly, how do we counter the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the insurance and drug industries to brain wash our fellow Californians?
There is only one answer. We must build, expand, and energize a grassroots movement for affordable, single payer health insurance until it becomes a political force that can go toe-to-toe with the existing vested interests. When millions of Californians demand a change, the change will happen. We are not naive. We know this will take time. But we also know that the healthy winds of change can already be felt.
With the OneCareNow Campaign, we have begun the first-ever grassroots movement for single payer health care in California and in the nation. Our first year campaign activities are simple, yet audacious. We are organizing 365 events in 365 cities up and down the state, one event per day for an entire year, to educate voters about single-payer, universal health insurance. We began last month, on August 12 in Morro Bay and will progress to larger towns and cities throughout the state, until our last event in Los Angeles on August 12, 2007. As we move from city to city, we will be collecting resolutions of support from Boards of Supervisors and City Councils, and the support of individuals, businesses, and organizations. On August 19, 2007, we will hold a massive rally of all our supporters at the the State Capitol to demand that our elected officials enact (once again) and the Governor sign the Kuehl bill.
Universal health insurance is inevitable. Our supporters and the 500 other organizations who have been working for this major reform are not going away. We are, inexorably, making our demands public to a wider and wider audience. And together, we are working for the day when we can shed the collective shame we must all bear for withholding health care from 7 million men, women, and children who call California their home.”
Andrew McGuire
Executive Director
Health Care for All—California
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