Kalra believes healthcare is a right for Californians

Published in the July 5 – July 18, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Amy McElroy

Ash Kalra

The South County Democratic Club and Indivisible South Valley sponsored an information session about California’s single-payer healthcare bill SB 562 Saturday, June 24, at the Gilroy Library. Assemblymember Ash Kalra from San Jose, who signed on as a co-author, Greg Miller and Joan Simon, both of the California Nurses Association, spoke in favor of the bill.

Kalra believes healthcare is a right. “We have a duty to ensure that everyone has access regardless of their means,” he said. “How we get there is complicated and difficult.”

The basic idea behind single-payer is to pool our resources in California, rather than having insurance companies providing healthcare — akin to Medicare’s program, he said. The proposed program is called Healthy California, and details can be found at www.healthycaliforniaact.org.

“We want to serve as a model and expand to other states,” said Miller, who serves as the Santa Clara County coordinator for Healthy California.

The Gilroy session came on the heels of Speaker Anthony Rendon putting the bill on hold in the Assembly after its passage in the Senate “until further notice,” calling it “woefully incomplete.”

There are legitimate concerns about the bill in its current state, Kalra said. For example, it has incomplete financial information, which is due to be filed as an amendment. This action by the Speaker will buy time to thoroughly explore all outstanding issues, he said.

Kalra suggested that while the bill is on hold, concerned citizens should communicate with local doctors, county health services, and local city governments to clearly understand their needs and how the single-payer plan can best serve them. Kaiser has a good model for healthcare that he doesn’t want to disturb, he said. The assemblymember wants to pay for healthcare through Healthy California, thus eliminating unnecessary costs by about 15 to 20 percent.

The panel emphasized the benefits of single-payer healthcare. “It would guarantee healthcare for every Californian,” Miller said.

This includes unemployed or self-employed persons, and there would be no surprise medical bills and no effect to health benefits when people change jobs, he said.

Healthy California is also structured so there would be no co-pays, premiums to insurance companies or deductibles. California residents would no longer need to worry about lifetime limits nor reliance on their employer to negotiate with insurance companies. Funds under the federal Taft-Hartley Act are specifically preserved under the bill.

The panel also addressed misinformation in the media that single-payer would destroy the benefits that people receive under Medicare. Instead, Healthy California would replace the current form of Medicare with a better, Medicare-like system, where patients could choose from any doctor and have more comprehensive coverage — including eye, dental, and more — for less money, Miller said.

“We spend more and get less than any industrialized country in the world,” said Simon,who is the former director of the Santa Clara Chapter of Health Care for All-California.

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She explained to the public attending the panel the economic reasons why the bill is necessary. Compared to other industrialized countries, the United States spends more than two and a half times on healthcare per person, while the average life expectancy remains below average. In addition, the U.S. has the most expensive prescriptions, surgical and diagnostic procedures. The U.S. now spends 70 percent of each dollar on administration, overhead, and non-medical needs. One of the primary benefits of Healthy California is that it would remove all insurance companies, eliminating the waste and markups that occur through bureaucracy.

Polls show 60 to 70 percent support for single-payer healthcare in California, including 40 percent among people who voted for President Donald Trump, Miller said. More than 300 organizations endorse the bill.

While the financial details are not settled, the bill would create the California Health Trust Fund, Miller said. One source of funding would be all federal monies previously set aside for healthcare, such as the ACA, Medicare, Medi-Cal, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The federal funds will be acquired through a legal waiver.

All federal funds would be combined with state funds for healthcare into the California Health Trust Fund. The money that now comes out of people’s paychecks for health insurance and Medicare, or that people spend on individual insurance plans, would be replaced by a payroll tax. That tax would be measured on a sliding scale, according to income. Then, employers — other than small businesses with a gross income of less than $2 million — would also contribute on a sliding scale.