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Nurses — backed by Newsom — ramp up fight for universal health care

Nurses and physicians in a busy hospital corridor. (Photo: Monkey Business Images)

The California Nurses Association is still committed to pushing through its controversial universal health care bill despite stiff opposition from the Democratic Assembly Speaker and medical professional organizations.

The union has a strong ally in front-runner gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom, who says that a single-payer system as proposed in Senate Bill 562 is the best way to provide health care to all. The bill, which was approved last year by the Senate, would replace the current private insurance system with one government-run health care system.

“There’s no reason to wait around on universal healthcare and single-payer in California,” Newsom said in September. “It’s time to move 562. It’s time to get it out of committee.” The line prompted cheers and a standing ovation from the audience of about 1,500 members of the nurses’ union.

“Our hands are tied. We can’t do anything unless he releases the bill and assigns it to a policy committee.’ — Dan Nielsen

Discussion on SB 562 appeared to be over in June when Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon shelved the bill because it did not address serious issues such as financing, delivery of care, cost controls and whether the federal government would allow its funds to go to such a state-run single payer system.

Don Nielsen, a spokesperson for the nurses association, said the group has 17 amendments to the bill ready to address the concerns but has never been allowed a hearing.

“Our hands are tied,” he said. “We can’t do anything unless he releases the bill and assigns it to a policy committee. You’ve got to get the process going. He holds the key to the box in which our bill is locked.”

The nurses association has responded with rallies urging a hearing for the bill and harsh words for Rendon.

Kevin Liao, Rendon’s press secretary, said the supporters and authors of the bill still haven’t done anything to address his concerns. He said the amendments have not been presented to the speaker’s office.

A legislative analysis said a single-payer system would cost California an eye-popping $400 billion.

In the meantime, an Assembly select committee has been having informational hearings on universal health care. Two more hearings are scheduled Feb. 5 and 7. Liao said the goal is “how do we get to yes on universal health care.” He said by the end of the process the committee will have put in more than 20 hours of hearings about the issue and will produce a report with recommendations.

Nielsen said polls show that over 70 percent of California voters support a single-payer system with that number bumped up to 80 percent among Democrats. Most people agree that the current health system is broken.

“If the system’s broken and needs to be fixed the solution is not say keep the system the way it is,” he said.

While a legislative analysis said a single-payer system would cost California an eye-popping $400 billion, Nielsen said the current system already costs $370 billion with 70 percent of the funding coming from public sources. “Our bill would take those current public health dollars and funnel them into a single-payer pipeline and there would be an additional amount that would need to be raised,” he said. That additional amount would come likely come from higher taxes.

It would legislate out Kaiser, which currently provides insurance for upwards of 9 million Californians.

Though more Californians are insured today than ever before because of the federal Affordable Care Act, that law is under attack by the Trump administration. Still, nearly 3 million of the state’s residents lack insurance.  Nielsen pointed out that the majority who have insurance don’t necessarily get the care they need because deductibles and co-payments are too high. He cited one friend who has a $15,000 deductible.

The Coalition to Protect Access to Care, made up of several medical professional organizations and insurer Kaiser Permanente, opposes SB 562 because it would “dismantle the health care marketplace and destabilize the state’s economy.”

Jon Roth, chief executive officer of the California Pharmacists Association, which is a member of the coalition, said SB 562 would set back access to care for patients. It would legislate out Kaiser, which currently provides insurance for upwards of 9 million Californians.

“It’s definitely doable which is why you’re starting to see these groups come out in active opposition.” — Dan Nielsen

“We believe in a multi-prong provider approach – the opportunity for Californians to make the choice in a health care provider and plan that works for their family, whether that’s Medi-Cal or private insurance or a commercial health plan,” he said. “We believe patients having the choice to make decisions is a better approach than a single government-run system with lots of question marks.”

Theresa Ullrich, board president of the California Association for Nurse Practitioners, which is also a member of the coalition, said her group opposes the bill because it doesn’t offer a pathway to single payer.

“We are in support of universal health care,” she said. “This looks unsure about what the pathway is and how they’re going to accomplish it.”

She said it would be better to work with improving the Affordable Care Act, which has helped get more people insurance, though she knows that is not likely with the current administration.

Nielsen, of the nurses association, said that if people wait for a perfect universal health care bill, nothing will ever get done. Universal health care now is a real solution, he said. “It’s definitely doable which is why you’re starting to see these groups come out in active opposition.”

Ed’s Note: Adds quote from Newsom, 3rd graf.


  • Steven Maviglio

    What planet does CNA leadership live on? “Definitely doable?” Tell us how. Too bad the article didn’t look at what “free health care” would mean — how we find the providers, the institutions, the funds, and the system to allow it to happen.

    • Max Cotterill

      Gee I wish there was a normal democratic process that this bill could go through so that we could litigate whatever issues you have with it. Maybe like a committee process or something? Too bad Speaker Rendon would rather use his unilateral power to stall the bill while the pharmaceutical and insurance industries conveniently mobilize in opposition.

      • Steven Maviglio

        There is a normal democratic process; too bad CNA has no clue how it works. What’s really unfortunate is that you seem to think the way to get a bill passed is to threaten legislators and the Speaker (you know, the knife in the back, a recall, and screaming protests that don’t provide anybody with health care). Instead of the absurdity of trying to repair a flawed piece of legislation that will not create any more doctors or nurses to provide “free” health care to millions of people, those of us who actually have worked on this issue for decades know our energy is better spent trying to save Obamacare from Trump and the Republicans, rather than attacking Democrats.

  • KG

    Just get it done soon and get it done right.

  • Steve Russell

    Not all CNA members support the leadership on this issue. Many of us are tired of being the ATM for Roseanne’s political games. One recent example is CNA funneled $50,000 of member dues money into the mayor of Atlanta’s race to support a Bernie Sanders, our Revolution, person who only got 9% of the vote. What possible interest does a California nurse have in the outcome of the Atlanta Georgia mayor’s race? Not to mention the thousands she’s been funneling from CNA into Gavin Newsoms Governor campaign since 2015 before there were any official announced candidates. We just want a union to represent us at work and stop the political games.

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