by Tom Condit; this article was originally published in Partisan issue no. 22, printed January 2007.

On January 8, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger gave us his "health plan." It would actually destroy health coverage rather than expand it.

The plan would require every Californian to buy health insurance, and fine any who don't. This amounts to a tax, payable to insurance companies. For this tax, people would get bare-bones plans with deductibles as high as $5,000 and would have to spend up to $7,500 more for procedures not covered by their policy. People with high-deductible health plans spend more money on health care than people with real health coverage, and they're much more likely to put off needed health care because of the cost.

Along with these high-deductible plans would come a tax break for "Health Savings Accounts" (HSAs) on the federal model. HSAs allow people to put away money, pre-tax, to pay for medical expenses (but not insurance premiums). They let insurance companies shift the costs and liability of healthcare away from them and onto consumers. The tax deduction would benefit few Californians. HSAs provide a handy tax shelter for the rich and the well-to-do.

Employers would have to spend 4% of payroll to buy insurance, either from insurance companies directly or through a state fund. This isn't enough to cover insurance for the working uninsured. There is no limit on what employees would have to pay, no cost control and no premium control. It would speed up the movement of employers to drop health care plans.

Schwarzenegger also promised to extend health care for children, but his current budget undercuts existing programs.

Finally, the governor proposes to take away billions of dollars now being used by hospitals and clinics to provide actual health care, and give them to insurance companies to provide some sort of health care, some time in the future.

As Deborah Burger, president of the California Nurses Association, puts it, "a plan that begins by criminalizing the uninsured with no controls on skyrocketing premiums and, at this point, no standards on what those health plans would include, is a train wreck waiting to happen."

When it comes to basic measurements of health care quality like infant mortality (how many children die in the first year after they're born), child mortality (how many die in their first five years), how long we live, how many mothers die in childbirth, and how many kids are vaccinated, the World Health Organization ranks the U.S. 37th in the world. This is because all other industrialized countries have some kind of publicly-financed health system which covers everyone. We have hundred of insurance companies, each generating mountains of paperwork. Our system is designed to produce profits, not to take care of people.

We need one publicly-funded system of quality health care for everyone, with no insurance company profits or red tape. It needs to cover everyone "young, old, employed, unemployed, rich or poor. It needs to have high quality, comprehensive care of all types, including long term care. It needs to be paid for fairly, through progressive taxation. Finally, it must be simple, structured to hold down the escalation of costs and bureaucracy, and allow democratic input for correcting its problems.

The only proposal before the legislature which even approaches this is State Sen. Sheila Kuehl's SB 840. It brings us closer to a "single payer" system like Canada's. The Peace and Freedom Party supports this bill despite its weaknesses, which include regressive financing and wide-open doors for restricted and multi-tier care. If Governor Schwarzenegger were truly interested in health care for all, he wouldn't have vetoed SB 840 last year.

Kuehl will reintroduce SB 840 this year. A statewide campaign to support is being organized by, with petitions, resolutions, public meetings and house parties throughout California. If you'd like to help, you can contact them at:
2130 Fillmore St., #343
San Francisco, CA 94115-2224
(888) 442-4255

Tom Condit was the Peace and Freedom Party candidate for Insurance Commissioner in 2006.

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