Ad­vo­cates for sin­gle-payer health­care play the long game

Imperial Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY LAU­REL ROSENHALL

By many mea­sures the ram­bunc­tious cam­paign for a sin­gle-payer health care sys­tem in Cal­i­for­nia ap­pears to be floun­der­ing.

A bill that would re­place the ex­ist­ing health care sys­tem with a new one run by a sin­gle payer —specif­i­cally, the state gov­ern­ment — and paid for with tax­payer money re­mains parked in the Assem­bly, with no sign of mov­ing ahead. An effort by ac­tivists to re­call Assem­bly Speaker An­thony Ren­don for shelv­ing the bill has gone dor­mant. And an ini­tia­tive that would lay the fi­nan­cial ground­work for a future sin­gle-payer sys­tem has lit­tle fund­ing, un­der­cut­ting its chances to qual­ify for the bal­lot.

But even if sin­gle payer is a lost cause in the short term, ad­vo­cates are play­ing a long game. For now, it may well be less a re­al­is­tic pol­icy blue­print than an or­ga­niz­ing tool.

And by that met­ric, ad­vo­cates are mak­ing gains.

Rid­ing a wave of en­thu­si­asm from pro­gres­sive Democrats, sup­port­ers of sin­gle payer have ef­fec­tively made it a front-and­cen­ter is­sue in Cal­i­for­nia’s 2018 elec­tions.

It’s been dis­cussed in vir­tu­ally ev­ery fo­rum with the can­di­dates run­ning for gover­nor, emerged as a point of con­tention in some leg­isla­tive races, and will likely be a ral­ly­ing cry at the up­com­ing Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party con­ven­tion.

“This is­sue is not go­ing away,” said Garry South, a Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant who has worked with the Cal­i­for­nia Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion, which spon­sored the stalled sin­gle-payer bill.

“The pro­gres­sive el­e­ments who are sup­port­ive of the sin­gle-payer con­cept know that it’s not go­ing to hap­pen now, it’s not go­ing to hap­pen to­mor­row. It’s a long-term process and Jerry Brown is gone as of Jan­uary 2019.”

The gover­nor has not had to stake a po­si­tion on the bill be­cause it skid­ded to a stop in the Assem­bly last sum­mer with­out reach­ing his desk.

But state Sen. Toni Atkins, a San Diego Demo­crat who co-au­thored Se­nate Bill 562, said Brown was not re­cep­tive. Analy­ses peg the cost of a statewide sin­gle-payer sys­tem at be­tween $330 bil­lion and $400 bil­lion—far ex­ceed­ing the state’s en­tire bud­get. That made it an anath­ema to Brown’s record of pri­or­i­tiz­ing fis­cal sta­bil­ity for state gov­ern­ment.

“When the gover­nor saw that we in­tro­duced that bill… all he could look at me and do is shake his head and say, ‘$400 bil­lion dol­lars.’ And I kept try­ing to say, ‘Can we back up and talk about what you’ve got to do to get (there)?’” Atkins said in an interview. “He wasn’t let­ting it go.” Atkins, who will take over as Se­nate leader next month, said she’s not giv­ing up on the goal of sin­gle-payer but does not ex­pect it to hap­pen this year. “Peo­ple are po­lar­ized on this is­sue in a way that’s not good for com­ing to­gether to get it done,” she said.

Led by the nurses as­so­ci­a­tion — a la­bor union that em­braces fire­brand ac­tivism — sup­port­ers of sin­gle-payer have tar­geted Ren­don after he shelved the bill last sum­mer, say­ing it lacked crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion on how to pay for a mas­sive over­haul of the health­care sys­tem.

They pep­pered so­cial me­dia with im­ages that not only por­trayed the bill fight as a box­ing match be­tween Ren­don and the nurses, but also de­picted a knife la­beled “Ren­don” back-stab­bing the bear sym­bol of Cal­i­for­nia.

The nurses were not in­volved in the cam­paign to re­call Ren­don, said re­call or­ga­nizer Stephen Elzie, who has since dropped the effort and is now help­ing Demo­crat Maria Estrada chal­lenge Ren­don’s re-elec­tion bid.

But the nurses union leapt into the gover­nor’s race as one of the first la­bor unions to en­dorse Lt. Gov. Gavin New­som. Sin­gle-payer has emerged as one of few is­sues on which the Demo­cratic can­di­dates dis­agree.


The Cal­i­for­nia Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion leads a rally for the sin­gle-payer health­care bill at the Capi­tol in June 2017. AP

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