By Emily Cameron
On February 17, state senators Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins introduced SB-562, the Californians for A Healthy California Act, into the California state legislature. The bill is yet another attempt to achieve a universal healthcare system in the Golden State, but this time around, the stakes are much higher.
For many Central Valley residents, the fight for single payer healthcare is not just a difference of political opinion – it’s a fight for their lives.
Just ask Carrie Anne Castillo, a Turlock resident and mother of two young children, who has lived with Crohn’s Disease for more than a decade; the disease causes her immune system to attack the body, and the treatment kills off her immune system, which makes Castillo vulnerable to potentially deadly infections. When Castillo’s husband was laid off from work due to automation of the position, The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was an essential resource – but Castillo also noticed several major problems with the Obama Administration’s signature policy.
“ACA saved my life, and I am grateful, but it was often a struggle to get the care I needed,” Castillo said. “… I had issues getting some of my meds approved, because my insurance through the ACA did not want to pay for fancy Crohn’s drugs. They did, because my doctor’s staff and I made sure we jumped through whatever hoops they required of us, but I could have been maimed or disfigured waiting for care under ACA.”
According to Judy Hess, Secretary of the Campaign for A Healthy California, the Healthy California Act specifically aims to tackle the problems that the Affordable Care Act could not.
“It eliminates no one. Everybody in, nobody out. No deductibles, no co-pays,” Hess said. “It will be less expensive. We eliminate the 30% of every premium dollar going to insurance companies.”
The Campaign for A Healthy California is a coalition of organizations including Progressive Democrats of America, California Nurses Association, California Physicians Alliance and a couple dozen more; as Hess notes, the campaign is motivated by a passion for health, and the current healthcare system simply is not delivering results.
“A single payer system is the optimal plan. The U.S. ranks among the lowest of all industrialized nations in healthcare outcomes such as infant mortality and life expectancy, yet we pay double per person what the next highest [country] pays for healthcare,” Hess said.
Fairness in the health sector is an issue frequently on the mind of Jess Fitzpatrick, co-chair of Trans-E-Motion, a Fresno nonprofit that supports the trans community.
As a current Medi-Cal user, Fitzpatrick is anxious about what the GOP’s healthcare plan would mean for his future. Fitzpatrick knows firsthand just how difficult it can be to find quality care under ACA as a trans man, and believes that California’s proposed legislation would be a win for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Access to competent healthcare professionals has been an absolute nightmare. I never see the same physician twice, and good luck finding a doctor who is not only comfortable with working with transgender people, but actually knows something about us as well,” Fitzpatrick said. “Single payer healthcare would be a huge boon to everyone, but especially our community. We could more easily connect with the doctors we need without getting lost in the labyrinth of paperwork and red tape.”
The next steps for supporters of SB-562 is to get the bill passed in the Senate and Assembly; the bill will need to pass in the Health committee and Appropriations committee of both houses.
Although Democrats control the majority in Sacramento, James Williams, the Campaign for A Healthy California’s regional director in the Central Valley, warns that supporters of SB-562 still have a lot of work to do.
“If you are afraid to say that the Democrats are the problem, you’re never gonna fix the problem. We know how the Republicans are gonna vote on it. If this fails, it’ll be because of the Democrats. We shouldn’t need the Republicans. We have two-thirds in both houses,” Williams said.
In addition to his work as a political organizer and activist, Williams is also a registered nurse. While some may criticize Williams’ bold take on Democrats in the Capitol, he maintains that his passion is not without reason.
“Six Democrats abstained or voted no in early 2012, the last time we tried this,” Williams said. “We lost by two votes.”
On March 23, Congressional Republicans rescinded the American Health Care Act after discovering that they did not have the votes to pass their replacement to the Affordable Care Act. This bodes well for proponents of California’s SB-562 bill, as it means the $10 billion in federal funding we receive will not be slashed, and thus more money will be in the fund to pay for Medicare For All.
Emily Cameron is an activist and freelance journalist with bylines in several local publications, including The Fresno Bee. She is a member of Fresno County’s Election Observer Panel on behalf of the Fresno County Green Party. Cameron volunteers for Dr. Jill Stein’s campaign, Progressive Democrats of America, and the Yes on 62 campaign to end the death penalty in California.