By Sheri Williams
A proposal to create a universal, single-payer healthcare system in the state was tabled in January, but California nurses and Labor unions vowed to keep fighting for better care for all Californians.
The bill, Assembly Bill 1400, would create a state-run insurance system for all Californians, helping to provide better care at a lower cost for consumers. It stalled out before a vote of the full Assembly, the farthest the bill has advanced, but nurses vowed to return with new legislation in coming sessions.
Cathy Kennedy, an RN and president of the California Nurses Association, said single-payer healthcare is “the only real solution” to the healthcare crisis, and called out the nurses’ leadership on the issue, promising to continue the fight until CalCare becomes a reality.
By streamlining payments and lowering per-capita health care spending, CalCare guarantees quality healthcare and long-term care without creating barriers or out of-pocket costs, said the nurses union. The bill would also affirm that health care is a right for all Californians and establish a payment system that eliminates waste and aligns reimbursements with the actual cost of care.
“This is an exciting milestone for CalCare,” said Kennedy when the bill passed a crucial committee hearing earlier in the month. “We nurses have been organizing to win guaranteed health care for all of the state’s residents for more than 30 years because we know this is the only way that our patients can get the care they need, regardless of the size of their bank accounts. Now, with the COVID pandemic, the urgency to establish CalCare is greater than ever, and we are glad that our grassroots movement to hold our legislators accountable to the people they represent, not corporate insurance companies, is working.”
Nurses “have the courage to do what they know in their hearts is right,” she said during a rally for the measure. “As the worst pandemic rages, there are absolutely no excuses.”
The bill’s author, Ash Kalra, told media the bill addresses a larger problem, including that the current system of dozens of insurers negotiating their own terms is unfair and costly, and “ultimately is fiscally unsustainable, unreasonably inefficient and morally indefensible.”
Kennedy pointed out that only consistent organizing by nurses and other activists has pushed legislators to advance AB 1400 this far. CNA nurses have been proposing a CalCare-type system for the state since the 1990s, and have worked to pass a state voter initiative and even successfully won single-payer legislation twice only to have then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger veto the bills.
The corporate insurance industry, which wastes almost one-third of each health care dollar on exorbitant CEO salaries, marketing, billing, advertising, and an army of staff to deny and delay claims, has spent hundreds of millions lobbying against state single-payer, the union argues.
“Study after study has shown that a single-payer system, like CalCare, is the only solution that would provide universal, comprehensive benefits to all while also reducing overall healthcare spending,” Carmen Comsti of the California Nurses Assn. told media. “We would get more, cover everyone, and pay less.”
California Nurses Association/National Nurses United is the largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses in the nation with 100,000 members in more than 200 facilities throughout California and more than 175,000 RNs.