March 1, 2005

Universal Health Care Bill Introduced to Cover All Residents of California

By In Essays

As George W. Bush fiddles with his plan to destroy social security, the health care crisis in America continues to burn out of control. Not only are 45 million Americans uninsured, but there are millions more who are underinsured or can no longer afford medical insurance. Last year, for example, average health care costs went up 25%, and over 50% of all bankruptcies in the U.S. resulted from exorbitant medical bills that average citizens– even with health insurance– could not afford to pay.

Of course this is nothing new. The health care system in America has been on the skids for a long time, and it is getting worse with each passing year. To their credit, liberal Democrats have always wanted to fix the system and pass a single payer, national health care bill, ever since Harry Truman. Their latest effort was during Bill Clinton’s first term in office when his wife Hillary gave it the old college try, but the insurance industry and her Republican opponents in Congress summarily crushed her proposal and used her name to poison the well for any future legislation.

As a result, Democrats are reluctant to propose anything related to health care on a national scale; they know it would be an exercise in futility since the Republicans in the Congress (and some Democrats) who are in the pockets of the insurance industry are even stronger today than when they torpedoed Hillary.

As a result, California has decided to do an end run around the Caligulan power structure in Washington and tackle the crisis on its own. And so last month, California State Senator Sheila Kuehl introduced SB 840, the California Health Insurance Reliability Act (CHIRA), which will give all Californians universal health care coverage, including medical, dental, vision, hospitalization, and prescription drug benefits.

The bill is based on a business model by the Lewin Group, an independent firm with 18 years experience in healthcare cost analysis, and it maintains that the current health care system of multiple public and private insurers could be replaced with a single, reliable insurance plan that would save the state about $20 billion in administrative costs.

Under the plan, the state of California would be in charge of the health care system. It would buy prescription drugs and durable medical equipment in bulk and save the state about $5.2 billion; in addition, aggregate savings to state and local governments from 2006 to 2015 would be about $43.8 billion.

There would also be savings for employers who currently offer health benefits to their employees. They would save 16% when measured against their current costs. And families who earn under $150,000 a year would see savings range from $600 to $3,000 per family by 2006.

The reason for such sizeable savings is quite simple: the plan will cut out two layers of costly bureaucracy, two profit-driven “middlemen,” namely insurance companies and HMOS, which together, make billions of dollars from the health care industry each year.

The plan itself will be financed with a 3% income tax on individuals and a 7.75% tax on business. In view of what individuals are currently paying for medical insurance and what businesses are paying for their employees’ health care insurance, these rates are a bargain, especially since the new system will be inclusive of all health care costs and have no deductibles or co-pays.

Given the benefits of this plan for average citizens, the usual cast of sleazy lobbyists and free market scam artists representing the insurance industry and the HMOs will fight the bill tooth and nail. So will all the craven elected officials in the California state legislature who receive hefty contributions from these powerful groups every year, and on cue, they will drag out the same old fallacious arguments about the evils of a “government-run” system– even though every civilized country in the world has a government-run system that spends far less per capita on health care than the United States.

But the real key to passing this bill hinges on the support of the business community. If supporters of SB 840 can show employers in California that this system will actually save them money on the cost of health care for their employees, the employers may be convinced to support the bill. And if the employers in the business community sign onto the bill, so will Governor Schwarzenegger, who, of course, cares about “the peoples” and not the special interests.

If, on the other hand, the business community refuses to go along, and the insurance/HMO propaganda machine convinces uninformed citizens that “socialized medicine” is not in their best interests, then it will go down in defeat in California the same way it has on a national level for the past 50 years.

The wild card this time is the current system itself. It has become so dysfunctional, so costly, so unfair, and so in need of replacement that maybe this time Californians will see through all the propaganda and demand an affordable health care system that benefits all of its residents and not just a handful of special interests.

And if California is successful, the rest of the country will follow. But if it isn’t, the door will close on any affordable universal health care system for the foreseeable future, and average Americans will continue to get gouged and go broke while Big Business and special interests groups continue to prosper– big time!

Of course this should come as no surprise to anyone since it is just another corporate fascist component to the “starve-the-beast” plan of the Bush administration, a plan designed to return America to those thrilling, pre-New Deal days of yesteryear when robber barons ruled the roost and working stiffs knew their place.

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