California health care activists, Democratic Party members and other progressives are wondering what just happened. A rising, powerful movement for single-payer health care was just beginning to get major traction when it was dramatically cancelled from above.
On June 23rd, 2017, the California Democratic Party establishment, through one of its leaders, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon killed SB 562 for the rest of the year. Governor Jerry Brown, a more open opponent of SB 562, agreed with the Speaker that “more work” was needed on the plan. And once again, a single-payer system – where health payments are bundled into one state plan that covers everyone – is bounced back into the void of political indifference. Some would say, where the big health insurance companies paid for it to be.
With the ease of writing a press release, Speaker Rendon and the Democratic Party heads, have doubled the real-life crisis facing millions of Californians as Obamacare gets repealed. In doing so, the Democrat establishment have also undermined the rising resistance movement to Trumpcare and to all of Trump’s policies.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein, Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi and Governor Jerry Brown are united. They want to kill off the whole idea of single-payer. Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom waits in the wings, in silence. The party establishment also want to quell the rising movement within the California Democratic Party, displayed by the huge floor battles at this month’s state convention. Seeing themselves as the only game in town, the Democratic Party elites think they can force the square peg into the round hole and make Obamacare the inspiring alternative to Trumpcare. Once again they aim for a corporate-friendly “centrist” policy when the left is the popular place to be. Despite the progress that Obamacare represents, it and Trumpcare are both market-based plans that do not challenge the big health insurance companies’ parasitic role in health care. Single-payer does.
How Long Has This Been Going On?
The California State House Democrats have been symbolically passing bills for single-payer for 25 years, but we still do not have it. Big majorities for substantial health care reform have occurred only when there is a standing Republican Governor to safely veto it. This happened under Republican Governor Pete Wilson and twice under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This is also not the first time the establishment has sidelined a bill by pushing for more time to study the financial implications of a single payer plan. In 1998 SB 2123 led to a Senate resolution calling for a study on financing models for universal health care. It found that more people would be covered for more services and for less money, and yet no plan was passed. In 2004, single-payer bill SB 921 passed the Senate and was also sent down the road for financial analysis. Similar bills SB 840 and SB 810 passed by Democrats but failed to see the light of day.
SB 562 grew out of the imminent demise of Obamacare under the new Federal Administration. Single-payer was boosted by Bernie Sanders and has been rising in popularity since. Yet six months after 562 was born, with the momentum still rising, the bill lies dead at the hands of the elected Assembly Speaker.
At the heart of the matter is that the Democratic Party attempts to be seen as the party defending our health while it is funded by those who wish to exploit and profit from the sick. The leadership of the party are in bed with the big health care corporations. Tom Daschle, the former Democratic Party Senate Majority Leader has been richly rewarded for fending off single-payer all these years; he is now a paid lobbyist for Blue Cross BlueShield. (https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientlbs.php…) Over a three-year period the California Democratic Party received $225,000 from the big health care insurance companies. The Presidential candidate that got the most donations from all Insurance companies in 2015 and 2016 was Hillary Clinton, receiving a whopping $827,781 from them.
Building a Movement for Single-Payer
Perhaps the most disturbing detail of the Democrats turn against single-payer is the timing. Just days after the Senate version of Trumpcare is announced, which put serious wind into the sails of universal coverage and in particular the movement for single-payer, the political establishment abruptly sunk it.
Another world is possible. The rise of the likes of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn point to the future. We need political representatives that not only refuse cash from corporate America and the sickness industry, but ones that see the living, independent movement of working people as critically important and not as an irritant. The Democratic Party leadership were enraged by the growing resistance to their policies that dominated the state party convention. They want Democratic Party progressives to door knock for them, but to keep their opinions to themselves.
Health care in California represents 15% of our GDP: some $360 billion. Private insurance will not willingly walk away from its billions in profits. They have spent decades developing relationships with both major parties to ensure their robbery is not ended by a single-payer system. Up against this obstacle, working people need their own party that represents the interests of working people: all of us, including the sick and the elderly.
The Democratic Party leadership can spin the stalling of single-payer any way they like. However, among the tens of thousands of activists across California fighting for Medicare for All, many will now be thinking more concretely of how to move beyond the Democratic Party. Nurses’ leader RoseAnn DeMoro has correctly called the decision to kill single-payer a disaster and is encouraging people to challenge Democrats that are soft on single-payer. After decades of testing the Democratic Party’s willingness to support universal health care, it’s time for a new framework. Working people need their own candidates and their own party. The time is now.