Exclusive: Author of single-payer health care measure expects it on ballot by 2014
Senators opposing bill raked in twice as much insurance cash as backers
With national health reform in peril, California has taken matters into its own hands. Its Democratic-led Senate last Thursday approved the creation of a single-payer insurance system. Authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the bill passed in a largely party-line vote of 22-14.
The legislation would replace private health insurance in the state with a Medicare-type program that covers all residents.
Leno told Raw Story in an interview that “it really doesn’t matter” if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger follows through with his veto threat because Californians will place the measure on the ballot.
“In California, the voters get the final say,” Leno said, suggesting the ballot initiative “could be as early as 2012, if not 2014.”
He said that even if Schwarzenegger signs the legislation into law, insurance companies would probably fight to overturn it in a ballot measure opposing single-payer.
The state senator said he “[chooses] to remain confident” it will succeed but refused to be complacent, admitting that taking on the insurance industry will be a huge challenge. He said proponents of the program must educate voters to protect them from disinformation.
“Single payer is not socialized medicine,” Leno explained. “We simply take out a for-profit middle-man that makes its profits by denying us health care.”
The state has 6.6 million uninsured residents — more than 20 percent of its population — according to a December 2009 study by the California Health Care Foundation.
Leno said the bill will save Californians from “the cruelty and the heartbreak, if not bankruptcy, due to the failed system.”
The California GOP, however, ripped the bill as “utterly irresponsible” upon passage, echoing a line of attack used by their Republican colleagues during the national debate.
“Democrats in Sacramento showed they are more interested in a government take over of people’s health care than creating new jobs and getting the economy moving again,” said Senate Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth (R-Murietta).
The senators who voted against it received twice as much campaign cash from insurance companies as those who backed it, according to a new analysis by the public database MAPLight.org.
Based on data provided by the National Institute on Money in State Politics (NIMSP), the study found that senators opposing the bill received an average of $43,633 from the insurance industry since 2006 — 97 percent higher than the $22,185 garnered by its supporters.
“Here in Sacramento, insurance industry contributions traditionally go to Republicans, not to Democrats, who usually vote on the side of consumers — though not without exception,” Leno remarked.
Thirteen of 14 Republicans voted against the bill, along with 1 of 25 Democrats. Further reflecting the chamber’s partisan divide, 10 of the top 15 insurance cash recipients are Republicans, while 17 of the bottom 20 are Democrats.
Curiously, the two biggest recipients of insurer contributions in the state senate — Sens. Yee and Negrete-McLeod — are Democrats, but both voted for the bill nonetheless.
Private insurers strongly oppose the bill as it would replace them with a government-run program inclusive of all residents.
Sen. Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach), a cancer survivor who has received fewer insurance contributions than all but one member of the chamber, explained her support for the bill by saying it’ll ensure that patients with illnesses aren’t denied care.
“When a national survey estimates that 12.6 million non-elderly adults were in fact discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition in the previous three years, or dropped from coverage when they became seriously ill, there is clear evidence for reform,” Oropeza said in a statement e-mailed to Raw Story.