By Lynn Jacobsson
Here we are in 2021, still in “The Time of COVID,” when the need for guaranteed healthcare for all Americans is more critical than ever as the coronavirus pandemic has spread throughout the world. Almost 30% of all Americans—95 million people—lost their health insurance at some point in 2020, as the unemployment rate climbed rapidly and job-related benefits disappeared.
Currently, 2.7 million Californians are uninsured and many more are underinsured. Millions of undocumented Californians still don’t qualify for Medicare, Medicaid or other federal healthcare subsidies. And our hospitals have been overwhelmed by waves of coronavirus infections and the failures of our for-profit healthcare system.
Over the past 20 years, guaranteed healthcare for all legislation has been before the California legislature several times. Each legislative cycle, the private healthcare insurance industry, with its billions in profits, has successfully defeated these efforts despite their increasing popularity among the American electorate.
If you support an affordable, cost-effective healthcare program for California, here are some actions you can take:
- Contact your state legislators (www.assembly.ca.gov or www.senate.ca.gov) to briefly tell them your healthcare “story” and why you need a healthcare program such as CALCARE. Also, encourage them to co-sponsor the CALCARE legislation because you and 70% of all Americans support a universal Medicare for All program. If your representative is a Democrat (e.g., State Senators Melissa Hurtado or Anna Caballero or Assembly Members Joaquin Arambula, Adam Gray or Rudy Salas), remind them that 88% of Democrats support Medicare for All.
- Sign up with the California Nurses Association (medicare4all.org), the California Alliance for Retired Americans (californiaalliance.org), the Progressive Democrats of America (pdamerica.org) or any of the other healthcare activist organizations in the state to be an advocate for a guaranteed healthcare program in California.
With the election of 2020, there is an improved political landscape for passing a universal guaranteed healthcare program in California as more politicians now support an expanded Medicare for All program. President Joe Biden nominated California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, a supporter of Medicare for All, to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Because California would have to pursue a waiver from the HHS to use the vast economic resources of the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs to make a Medicare for All state program financially viable, the Becerra appointment provides the opening for a publicly financed program in California.
The California Nurses Association has joined with other state and national organizations to launch a campaign for a publicly financed healthcare program (CALCARE) that would provide all Californians—including undocumented residents—with comprehensive healthcare benefits based on these principles:
- Universal coverage: high-quality healthcare for all California residents
- A single public program to replace profit-driven insurance companies
- Comprehensive benefits: medical, dental, hearing, vision, prescription drugs, long-term care and more
- Freedom to choose any doctor or provider
- Free at the point of use: no premiums, copays, deductibles or bills; funded by progressive taxation
- A just transition: funding and programs to protect any displaced workers in the insurance industry
- Patient care based on patient need: no “value-based” payment models for providers; no financial incentives to avoid providing necessary care
By eliminating the administrative costs of our current market-based healthcare system, including advertising, shareholder profits and extravagant CEO pay, CALCARE will cost Californians less than the private for-profit system. Pharmaceutical costs also will be lowered substantially by negotiating the prices of drugs with big pharma corporations as the Veterans Administration currently does.
Twenty-five Fresno area healthcare activists took part in a Covid-Safe Car Caravan for CALCARE on Feb. 6. This action was coordinated with 23 caravans across California, with hundreds of participants in every major city of the state. The Fresno caravan traversed Shaw Avenue for six miles, ending at the office of State Senator Andreas Borgeas (R–Fresno). After the caravan, participants sent him and other legislators a letter about CALCARE to lobby their support for upcoming Medicare for All legislation.
Lynn Jacobsson is professor emerita, CSU,Fresno, in Social Welfare Policy. Currently, political activist with an interest in health care and environmental justice policy. Can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.