Needed: A Just Health Care System
Our present system leaves millions without any decent health care. We have an insurance-based system which mostly depends on how well our employer is doing in the global market. Any of us could lose the health care we have at any moment through no fault of our own. People with long-term employment they thought was secure are in danger of having their families lose all coverage. Those who are retired cannot count on keeping their benefits.
A single publicly-financed system of health care would give health care to us, our children, our parents and our grandparents. It would be fairer and more efficient than our present profit-based system. It would encourage preventive medicine rather than "not fixing it till it's broke." It would make us safer from epidemic diseases and help detect work-related illnesses earlier.
The Peace and Freedom Party supports two bills to establish a universal "single payer" system of health care. A "single payer" system is one where the government pays all medical bills, but patients have their own choice of doctors and treatment. State, federal and local governments already pay almost half of health care costs in the U.S., but much of that is siphoned off into red tape and private-sector profits.
The Conyers Bill, HR 676
The strongest and better of the two bills is HR 676, introduced in Congress by Representative John Conyers of Michigan, with 78 cosponsors. It's called "Expanded and Improved MediCare for All." It would set up a national health insurance program based on the existing MediCare program and provide all medically necessary services to residents of the U.S. and U.S. territories, without co-pays or deductibles.
The Conyers plan would be paid for by rolling all existing state and federal funding for health care into one program. It would add a 3.5% payroll tax on employers and additional taxes on the top 5% of taxpayers and on stock and bond transfers. It also closes many existing corporate tax loopholes.
Under the new U.S. National Health Insurance program, private health insurers would not be allowed to sell coverage duplicating the benefits of the public program. This would ensure against a "two-tier" system where the rich get better benefits than the poor. People could still buy private coverage for unnecessary procedures like cosmetic surgery.
The Kuehl Bill, SB 840
State Senator Sheila Kuehl has reintroduced her bill, SB 840. It passed the California legislature last year, but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. This bill is weaker than HR 676, but has a much better chance of being enacted. Like the Conyers bill, it would cover everyone. Eligibility is based on residency instead of employment or income. No one would lose coverage by changing jobs or having a pre-existing medical condition.
The Kuehl bill would roll all existing public health expenditures in California (including those paid by the federal government) into one streamlined system. It would mandate spending 95% of health care dollars on actual care, instead of overhead and red tape.
It relies too much on payroll taxes, allows co-payments and deductibles if "necessary" after two years, and doesn't have strong enough restrictions on private-sector manipulation of the health market. It would still be an enormous step forward to have every Californian covered by a single health plan with no hoops to jump through.
This article was written by Tom Condit, the 2006 Peace and Freedom Party candidate for Insurance Commissioner.