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The Political Reality of Single-Payer Healthcare in California, or Why a Super Majority Isn’t What You Think

I’m an advocate for universal healthcare.

Gavin Newsom for Single-Payer for California at the LA County Democratic Club Meeting.
Feb. 13, 2018.

I’m an advocate for universal healthcare.

We don’t need health insurance companies. They don’t provide care. They actually deny it. That’s a big way they make money. Americans pay more than any other country on Earth for healthcare and we have lower life expectancies. Health insurance companies make healthcare more expensive, more restrictive, with worse outcomes. So why do we still have them?

Last night, I asked Gavin Newsom about the political future of single-payer healthcare in California at the LA County Democratic Party meeting.

“This needs to be a directive from the executive branch,” Gavin Newsom told me before delivering one of his signature campaigning-in-poetry speeches to a packed room of delegates (party members) at the LA County Democratic Party meeting.

“The executive needs to guide this [single-payer healthcare] bill and see it through.” Newsom went on to acknowledge the reality that if you want to pass this bill, you need the support of moderate Democrats. The bill he was referring to is SB562. (SB means Senate Bill. AB is Assembly Bill.)

If passed, SB562 would overhaul California’s healthcare delivery by creating a Medicare For All-style system for residents. No more insurance companies. I know.

But the bill is stuck.

Why? Whose stopping it? Are politicians protecting the health insurance companies?? Seriously, why don’t things just work?

Me after a canvassing event for SB562 with Healthy California.

California has a super majority of Democrats in the State Assembly, which is the lower house in the California state legislature. Democrats can pass anything they want without needing a single Republican vote. And, thanks to a wave of progressives entering the California Democratic Party as delegates last January, the party platform (aka mission statement) now includes supporting universal healthcare.

So let’s pass single-payer now!! Blue Fortress California!!!!!!! Go, Democrats!!! #Resist!!!!!!!

BUT. But…

This Democrat super majority in the state assembly is not a monoith. It’s a coaltion that includes moderate Democrats. These “mod dems” are not interested in supporting single-payer bill SB562. Why?

Some of them have this outdated notion that being in a purple district means playing it conservative. Which is silly/dumb. Progressive causes champion policies that support people, even if people who would benefit don’t support the policy.

So what’s the situation with SB562?

Speaker Anthony Rendon won’t allow SB562 to come a vote in the California State Assembly because his job is to protect the Democrats in the state assembly. They actually elected him to the position. Not voters. So why would he introduce a bill that doesn’t have the votes in his own party? The way they likely see it is that It will make moderates look bad and challenge the party’s super majority control. And in an election year.

So.

Question.

Does bringing this bill to a vote anyway and outing the mod dems in public help or hurt the cause of passing single payer for California? Couldn’t Speaker Rendon use his leadership muscle and get the moderates on board? Yes. BUT. But…

Governor Jerry Brown.

Brown has no intention of signing bill SB562. Why not?

Brown has a full agenda already with his two big (struggling) spending projects — the high-speed rail, currently in the middle of nowhere with costs so high its making the hyperloop look good. And the Delta Water Tunnels, which is like “Chinatown” in real life and Food & Water Watch says would be an environmental mess. In short, he’s got other priorities in his final year.

So now what?

Even if this bill magically came to a vote AND passed, Gov. Jerry Brown won’t sign it. It’s his final year in office.

So what is the value in advocating for SB562 now?

“It is the vehicle to have this conversation,” Newsom said about SB562.

This a conversation we need to have. This is how we see what’s possible.