By Jim Wood
Readers of the Times-Standard have seen several opinion pieces on State Senate Bill 562, or the “Healthy California Act.” That bill, often called single payer or Medicare for all, is currently being held in the State Assembly Rules Committee and I have been criticized for not doing more to overturn that decision.
Let me be clear, I have always supported health care for all. I am a health care provider, the chair of the Assembly Health Committee and I strongly believe health care is a right.
We all know the dangers of empty promises — remember when Obama said you could keep your doctor? We know that was his intent, but it just didn’t end up that way. So when supporters of this bill say it will eliminate premiums, deductibles, copays, and guarantee everyone receive all medically necessary care, including hospitalization, dental, vision, mental health and long-term care, I am immediately skeptical and concerned. There are more than 60 countries worldwide that have universal health care and while no two are identical, none offer unlimited benefits.
Here’s what I believe must be a part of a successful system:
• You can’t manage a system with a nine-member statewide committee. The one-size-fits-all approach of SB 562 does not consider the varied and unique regions within California, especially rural areas. I believe we need more than a dozen regional committees that reflect the unique characteristics of each region which would allow for the development of policies and reimbursement rates, for example, that would incentivize providers to practice not just in highly populated urban centers, but in areas where the number of providers is already inadequate.
• Business must be involved in any discussions about abolishing our employer-based health care system. We must bring in employers before we develop a transition plan, timeline and the necessary payroll tax. Once a bill is passed, it will still take years to unwind the current system.
• “Medicare for all” has been a term used to describe the bill. It is a concept I can actually support, but that’s not what SB 562 is. Most people know that as an employee, you pay a Medicare tax your entire working life, and when you turn 65, you enroll in Medicare and continue paying a premium out of your Social Security payments, you have copays for doctor visits and hospitalization, but may not have prescription coverage. Medicare recipients, however, have the option to purchase a supplemental policy that provides prescription coverage and may reduce or eliminate copays and shares of cost. And what would current Medicare recipients think of us folding their federal program into the state given the very high level of satisfaction seniors and providers have with the current Medicare system?
We are all frustrated with health care as it exists today, and certainly with the rhetoric coming out of Washington, D.C., I understand people’s fear of the uncertainty. Our current health care system depends significantly on federal funds and although a single payer system may well reduce some of those costs, it will not be enough to disregard the importance of retaining the federal support. At a time when leadership in Washington, D.C., is actively undermining the progress we have made over the past eight years, that federal support is absolutely not guaranteed.
As a legislator, I am doing whatever I can to protect the progress we have made with the Affordable Care Act. In addition, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced this week that I will join Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) to co-chair the Assembly Select Committee on Health Care Delivery Systems and Universal Coverage, which will hold ongoing hearings beginning in the legislative interim so the committee can develop plans for achieving universal health care in California. My priority will be to ensure that whatever system is proposed is sustainable.
It is my responsibility to endure whatever criticism is sent my way and to persevere, for as long as it takes, to ensure that the end result is a sustainable and comprehensive health care system and not something that might sound good, but end up being an empty promise.
Jim Wood is a member of the California State Assembly, representing Assembly District 2, which includes all of Humboldt, Del Norte, Trinity and Mendocino counties, plus northern and coastal Sonoma County, including the northern half of Santa Rosa.