By Vern Nelson
OC Voice Columnist
“We think our healthcare system is actually pretty good right now.”-State Senator Tom Harman, Sept. 2006.
At the time the senator uttered this astonishing remark to Laguna Beach’s Coastline Pilot, the U.S. was spending nearly twice as much per capita on health care as other developed countries, while rating 37th on most measures of quality of care, and it’s worse now.
Nearly 2 million Americans are driven into bankruptcy each year due to illness, and three-quarters of them had insurance when they got sick. Meanwhile, 22,000 Americans die every year from lack of medical service due to being uninsured-up from 18,000 at the time of Harman’s remark-equivalent to a Sept. 11 attack every 51 days.
Meanwhile, all efforts at meaningful reform have been met with cries of “socialism” and fables of the failures of other nations’ single-payer health care systems, and focus-group-tested lies about loss of “choice” spewed forth by astroturf (phony grassroots) groups funded by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries.
It seems change may be in the air though: polls show that 95 percent of Americans believe that “America’s healthcare system needs fundamental change or to be completely rebuilt,” and that 70 percent “would be willing to pay more [taxes] for a health plan that covered everyone, had no co-pays or deductibles, wasn’t attached to one’s job, and guaranteed choice of doctor or hospital.”
Even 60 percent of doctors-a generally conservative group of people who have historically resisted government interference in their work-now “support government legislation to establish National Health Insurance.”
Californians have for several years been trying to implement Sen. Sheila Kuehl’s “single-payer” legislation, SB 840, which, according to the highly respected, nonpartisan Lewin Group, would save Californians $8 billion a year by eliminating the for-profit insurers and covering us all through one nonprofit agency, by using the state’s bulk purchasing power to bargain down pharmaceutical prices, and by a new emphasis on preventive care for all Californians.
SB 840 passed in the California legislature in 2006 (with only Democratic votes) only to be vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. The Governor and some legislators went on to cobble together a crazy-quilt faux-reform which would have required all Californians to buy “junk insurance” from the usual profiteers, would have created huge government bureaucracies and really would have wasted billions of taxpayer dollars.
That bill thankfully failed under the weight of its costs and contradictions, and SB 840 is back in the assembly, having passed the senate a second time. But even if the governor can be prevailed on to sign the bill, it will still be a phantom bill without funding unless a few Republican senators and assemblymen can be convinced to support it.
There’s no good reason Republicans shouldn’t support the bill-apart from health insurance companies, it would be good for businesses in their districts. It would save money for most big employers that already insure their employees and make them more competitive with companies from countries that do have universal healthcare.
There are a few changes that could be made in SB 840 to make it more enticing to businesses and Republican voters, changes that would still create a universal, comprehensive single-payer system that will save billions of dollars and thousands of lives.
First, the new system would be administered not by a new government agency but by a nonprofit corporation like the one now administering California’s stem-cell research program. This corporation should be run by an elected board, with one-third of its members elected by doctors, one-third by nurses, and one-third by patients.
Also, the medical component of worker’s comp expenses that employers have to pay could be removed, making the bill a good deal for small employers who don’t currently insure their employees. The support we would then receive from chambers of commerce would more than balance off the concerns of unions and trial lawyers who want to keep worker’s comp the way it is.
So last year we were looking for a few honest, caring Republicans to suggest these ideas to, and being from Orange County we thought of alleged moderate Tom Harman as well as his close friend, “business Democrat” Lou Correa (the only Democrat to vote against SB 840) as a likely pair to pull off this historic compromise and bring universal healthcare to California. So we were full of high hopes when he called one of us in mid-2007 and invited us to meet with him to discuss our ideas.
Find out what happened in next month’s chilling episode of The Descent of Tom Harman!
Vern Nelson is a Huntington Beach musician and blogger who plays Friday and Saturday nights at HB’s Baci Italian Restaurant and writes regularly at www.orangejuiceblog.com. His next piano concert will be Sunday July 13, 6PM, at the Huntington Central Library.