Kuehl’s “Medicare for All Californians” Passes Senate Health Committee Before Standing Room Only Crowd4 min read

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SB 840–Single Payer Passes on 6 to 4 Vote–First Comprehensive Health Care Reform Bill Out of the Gate

Senate Bill 840, Sheila Kuehl’s single payer health care bill passed its first committee test this afternoon on a 6-4 which sends it to the Appropriations Committee. The companion bill, SB 1014, which details the funding also passed the committee on a 6-4 vote.

Hundreds of supporters of SB 840 packed the hearing room, overflow rooms and lined the halls outside the hearing. Most were members of the California School Employees Association and were wearing “CSEA Blue” shirts. CSEA is a co-sponsor of SB 840 and a staunch supporter of single payer health care. Close to half of CSEA members work part-time and do not qualify for employer paid health benefits.

Before the hearing got started supporters were already packed into the hearing room. The Senate Education Committee was meeting, and the school employees found the deliberations interesting. As the Education Committee adjourned, Senator Jack Scott, Chair of the committee acknowledged the blue shirted CSEA members. Someone in the audience shouted, “Please support single payer, Senators,” to which Senator Tom Torlekson gave a thumbs up.

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Senator Sheila Kuehl entered the hearing room to hearty round of applause and also gave a thumbs up to the audience. The crowd settled down and the business at hand, debate on the California Universal Healthcare Act, was addressed.

In her opening remarks Kuehl said we cannot depend on insurance companies to do the right thing, regulate themselves and bring the cost of health care under control. She went on to say that there is plenty of money for reform if we just stop the waste. Single payer is “not a new idea,” she said, “this is Medicare for all.”

California Nurses Association President Deborah Burger was one of the first witnesses. She told the committee about several people who had been denied coverage. Over the objections of her doctor, one woman was forced to leave the hospital.

Healthcare for All California Executive Director Andrew McGuire pointed out the popular support for SB 840. He promised to get more people involved, “and we will continue until we get single payer signed by any governor.”

A long line of witnesses, approximately 50, came forward to express their support. Among them were Carla Held, a CSEA member from Oroville whose planned testimony before the Assembly Health Committee is here. Also testifying was Martha Penry, a member of the CSEA Board of Directors from Sacramento.

Of course, the opposition got their chance to speak too. They were visibly in awe of the number of supporters for SB 840. They couldn’t refute the stories that had been told and so resorted to complaining about the damage they perceived SB 840 would do to businesses. Dominic DiMare of the California Chamber of Commerce pleaded, “Don’t support the outright banning of an industry.”

There is nothing in SB 840 that bans any industry. The fear is that health insurance companies will cease to exist. Their role is likely to be greatly diminished, but there will still be a need for them under SB 840.

The opposition also complained about what they call a “low threshold” to qualify for coverage. Under SB 840 every resident of the state is covered. They argue that this allows anyone to come into California and claim residency to gain health care coverage.

It was interesting to compare the arguments of the supporters against those of opponents. Supporters focused on people and the problems the present system causes people. Opponents seemed more focused on the SB 840’s effect on insurance companies and businesses. People were never part of their equation.

On the companion funding bill, SB 1014, it was noted that the cost of providing health care will be reduced overall. Minimum wage workers will pay approximately $300 per year and low wage employers approximately $500 per year. This is far less than the thousands now paid and is a shifting and lowering of taxes currently paid in other ways rather than a new tax.

Witnesses from Los Angeles Unified School District noted that they presently spend $816 million, or 11% of their budget on health care. This will rise to about $1.1 billion or 14% in 2010. The savings that could be generated under SB 840 could go directly into the classroom for our children’s education.
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Following the hearing on SB 840 and SB 1014 members of CSEA went to Shiela Kuehl’s fifth floor office where they presented her with over 100 letters they had gathered from other CSEA members supporting SB 840 and telling their own health care horror stories.

This article originally appeared in California Notes: A California issues journal from The Bayne of Blog, by Randy Bayne, and is republished with his permission and blessings. Randy Bayne is the Vice Chair of the Amador County Democratic Party and has been an active Democrat for years.

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