Politics

Who Stopped California's Single-Payer Plan?

We're right back to where we started from

Politics Features Anthony Rendon
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Who Stopped California's Single-Payer Plan?

Will the last Californian turn off the emergency light when she leaves? The California Assembly just canceled any hope of delivering single-payer health care for the Golden State in 2017. Specifically, it was the Speaker of that Assembly, Anthony Rendon, who impossibled the entire project. Per the Sacramento Bee:

… Rendon put the brakes on a sweeping plan to overhaul the health care market in California Friday, calling the bill “woefully incomplete.” ... “Even senators who voted for Senate Bill 562 noted there are potentially fatal flaws in the bill, including the fact it does not address many serious issues, such as financing, delivery of care, cost controls, or the realities of needed action by the Trump administration and voters to make SB 562 a genuine piece of legislation,” Rendon said.

What this means, in human terms, is staggering. Consider: all the campaigning, the rallies, the advocacy which sent parents and working people to the phones and out to demonstrations to cathartically discharge their agonies at being denied a simple human right, all the huge momentum mining away at the mountain of disdain and indifference—all of that came to naught.

Because the Dem Speaker of the Assembly, Rendon of Paramount, told the toiling masses of California from his seat atop legislative Sinai that no, they could wait another year for their health care, thank you, goodnight and good luck. There’s no denying that Rendon has delivered the throat-punch to California, and you do not have to be a book-choked mathemagician to comprehend how vast and broad the shaft is. Rendon gave several reasons for it. So did Governor Brown. None of them are convincing.

WHAT THEY SAID

The official story was that the bill needed fixing. But why put it aside for so long? Why not work with the sponsors, Lara and Atkins, to fix the law before passing it? If the Senators in Washington can take a piece of their summertime to saw away at Obamacare, surely the good representatives of California can find it in their hearts and calendars to devise a means of funding this system. Much was made of the $400 billion price tag, surely an overestimation. A more recent study from UMass Amherst cuts that cost. According to the Mercury News, the Amherst study suggested that a California single-payer program would cost

… $331 billion to provide health care to everyone living in the state — less than the $368.5 billion spent today in a system that leaves millions without coverage. To pay for it, they say, the state needs to find $106 billion in annual tax revenue — far less than the Senate committee’s estimate of $200 billion.

Jerry Brown said he was skeptical of the single-payer bill. Why wasn’t he skeptical of the current wallet-sapping, heart-draining system that will exist if he fails to exercise moral and financial leadership? What an odd faith to have. If you are a fiscal conservative, you should support single-payer more enthusiastically than anyone: until humans become invulnerable or genetically immune from sickness or the panacea is discovered, it is, as far as I’m aware, the cheapest option we have.

As usual, what wasn’t discussed was the in-depth back-breaking cost of a California without state single-payer or Obamacare. There is always money to be found when the state needs to fight a war, or to bail out the banks. Strange, how the same system of abstruse financing does not work with the absolute necessity of healing people. California’s economy is the sixth largest in the entire world, right behind the United Kingdom. There are a dozen ways to fund it. According to the Mercury, half of the amount could come from a fifteen-percent payroll tax. The money is there to find. The numbers are there to support. What is lacking is the will and the courage. Single payer in California faces a political obstacle, not an economic one.

Given that reality, what were the more probable reasons for retiring the bill to the fresh hell of the Assembly Rules Committee? The single-payer health care bill, SB 562, was done in by calculation. The politician’s constant companion, fear, pulled the lever. The Bee article hints at this:

The abrupt announcement shields members of the Assembly from having to take a difficult vote that could be used against them by critics or supporters of the policy. ... “Because this is the first year of a two-year session, this action does not mean SB 562 is dead,” Rendon said. “In fact, it leaves open the exact deep discussion and debate the senators who voted for SB 562 repeatedly said is needed.”

Lara and Atkins said that the bill lacked crucial language to discuss fundraising. Good point. Hey, here’s a way of coming up with those mechanisms: Discuss it in the California Assembly. Talking about it is more likely to deliver a workable proposal than not talking about it.

THE RISE OF SINGLE PAYER

The last year has seen the wild wind of politics turn every weather vane askew. But even hurricanes can send fair breezes. 2016 and 2017 saw the Democrats become champions of single payer. It wasn’t an overnight conquest: frankly, you’d have an easier time trying to coax agoraphobics onto the Planet of Apes. Blizzards of writings and opera-length conversations were deployed. Voices were raised. The Times informs us:

At rallies and in town hall meetings, and in a collection of blue-state legislatures, liberal Democrats have pressed lawmakers, with growing impatience, to support the creation of a single-payer system, in which the state or federal government would supplant private health insurance with a program of public coverage. And in California on Thursday, the Democrat-controlled State Senate approved a preliminary plan for enacting single-payer system, the first serious attempt to do so there since then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, vetoed legislation in 2006 and 2008.

With chances of maintaining national health care growing smaller by the day, the battlefield moves to the states. The Times goes on, noting that party strategists expect that the 2020 Presidential nominee will endorse a “broader” vision of public health coverage than any previous candidate:

A handful of legislators in Democratic states — some positioning themselves to run for higher office — have proposed single-payer bills, including in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Only in California does the legislation appear to have at least a modest chance of being approved this year.

Considering Germany has had some version of universal heath care since 1884, it’s about time.

WHO WINS?

Let me reiterate: if Rendon is being honest about the “deep discussion and debate” about the bill, then why not have said debate on the floor? Why squirrel the bill away in committee, like a sentimental widower hoarding away her husband’s etchings? Rendon is a professional politician. He reads the entrails of the national polity, groks that single-payer is the shared mass opinion of the public (and certainly of his own party). Rendon surely gets that Trump and company are three drinks and a beefsteak-based wager away from bloodily de-bodying Obamacare with a bicamerally sanctioned cleaver.

Rendon’s dismissal falls hard on everybody’s back, then. But if we look at the matter closely, this really is a colossal score for the oligarchs. In his public statements, the Speaker sings a lovely ditty about being a progressive. But watch what he does, not what he says. What he has done is kill the hope for state single-payer on the eve of the ACA’s gutting.

As a whole, the Assembly of California is ingenious in the practice of bringing specific kinds of money to Sacramento. As the IB Times reports:

Since the 2010 election, the 24 lawmakers on the two California legislative committees that will consider the single-payer legislation have collectively received more than $819,000 in donations from the industry groups that are officially opposing the measure. The cash haul includes more than $80,000 to the chairmen of the Assembly and Senate health committees, the latter of which is set to consider the legislation at a public hearing Wednesday.

The Times also notes that “House Speaker Anthony Rendon, Senate President Kevin De Leon and Gov. Jerry Brown, all Democrats, have also separately received a combined $370,000 from the groups.”

I am not claiming that Rendon, De Leon, or Brown were bought off. Of course not. Life and politics are much more complicated than that. Rendon is a symbol, but not the sole cause. What I am claiming is that they live and flourish inside a system which makes ignoring the public easy. Money is the mother’s milk of politics, so even for an enlightened politician, cash harkens very loud indeed. It distorts and delimits; it insulates the bubble which divides elected from elector. These men either do not understand the urgency of single payer, or they do not care enough to work for it. Which is it?

Single-payer is financially necessary for the many, but selling the people short is a financially remunerative for a few. We see which cause wins in the halls of the government of California. Whatever Rendon’s motivations, whether they are pure or not, we know the results. This dismissal of single payer is a big bow in the direction of the everlasting buck. Indeed, what Rendon has done—sell out Californians of every kind—is the oldest business in public life, and in the time of Trump, it is a growing market.

Look at this man, handing out medical salvation like he was a prophet on a peak! There is hope, however. Even in an age of widespread sickness, Rendon is one health problem we have a solution for: primary him, and then vote him out of office. You’ll quite remove that pre-existing condition.

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