Anthony Rendon talking at an event. Courtesy of Andy Yam.
West Torrance High School

Column: SB 562 not the healthcare solution, whether you like the current system or not

When Americans look up what do they see?

A country with a population less than that of the famous California, along with all the Canadian stereotypes of bacon, maple syrup, and everything else, eh?

Oh, I forgot one, free healthcare, too.

Canada’s single-payer health insurance system has been under the scopes of legislators— and pretty much everyone else— trying to look for a cure for the debilitating healthcare situation in the U.S. With the introduction of the Affordable Care Act by former President Barrack Obama, countless of lower-class Americans finally got the healthcare they deserved. Of course, this was at the expense of the upper class and middle class, since their premiums rose to make up for the lower class’ decreased healthcare costs.

Dubbed Obamacare, this program has no doubt helped large amounts of people, but at the same time, the brunt of this health reform was felt most strongly by working class Americans— what a surprise.

Feeling the brunt, in fact, is putting it lightly as some in the U.S report their healthcare premiums to be even higher than their mortgages. It also does not help much when Covered California forecasts a 12.5 percent increase in healthcare premiums, start 2018. Therefore, single-payer healthcare is what most democrats have been gravitating towards for a while.

Also known as universal healthcare, this government-run program insures everyone at a low rate, and gives nonexclusive access to all health services needed. Quality of health services also go up, as there is nothing stopping someone from seeing an “expensive doctor” anymore. The stab in the back, however, is that everyone has an equal chance of seeing whoever they need to see. Therefore, if Donnie, the construction worker, needs to get an MRI of his back, he has to throw his name onto a waiting list in order to get the attention he needs.

Although wait times are a blaring con of universal healthcare, the pros of giving everyone access to health services at a lower rate is too appealing to overlook. Therefore, when state senators proposed a universal healthcare bill for California, known as Senate Bill 562, it was ostensibly a step in the right direction.

But, a step in the right direction it was not. Senators Toni Atkins and Ricardo Lara were the co-authors who had proposed the bill along with the help of other democratic senators. When put through California’s Senate, SB 562 was ultimately passed with 23 ayes and 14 noes. All democratic senators recorded ayes with exception of one who recorded a no and three who abstained from the vote.

The next requirement was for the bill to be put through the California Assembly, and out came the gloves, in a good way. When SB 562 was passed onto the Assembly in late June, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon refused to let the bill be heard by the Health Committee, which instantly froze progression. This infuriated many parties and the implications on Rendon were hefty, to say the least.

Rendon has received hundreds of death threats, received flak from his constituent base, but most notably and irrationally so, the California Nurses Association (CNA) was most vocal in denial of Rendon’s actions. Since late June, the CNA has organized protesting in Sacramento, filling the halls of the Capital Building with their disapproval of Rendon’s “premature” slaughtering of the bill. Given all this negative feedback from the public, you would think Rendon has committed a public offense, but in reality, it is the other way around.

“The bill is missing the most significant component— the service delivery mechanism,” said Rendon, when I took him to the side and asked him to talk briefly about some of the irregularities of SB 562. “It does not say how the service will be provided. It is also missing funding that is in excess of twice the state’s current budget, and it makes no mention of Proposition 98.

Before we delve any further, let’s just examine the three points that Rendon identified briefly. He noted that the bill has not ruled how this new universal healthcare system would be carried out. There needs to be proper identification of how the services will be delivered to people. Who, when, how, where— these are simple questions that a revolutionary bill needs in order to catalyze the change it is pushing for.

Secondly, Rendon points out how the bill calls for money that exceeds the state budget. That means that the big Ferrari everyone wants, universal healthcare, is a tad bit too expensive right now. To be more exact, this bill calls for four times California’s current state budget of 122 billion, that Governor Jerry Brown just signed into effect. Yes, that means this universal healthcare bill demands more than 400 billion dollars.

Thirdly, Rendon reiterated the presence of Proposition 98, which allots a certain amount of money for education spending. If some miracle were to occur, and California were to get a budget increase, that of $400 billion dollars, it would ignore the responsibilities that California has already set aside to pay for. Now this does not just end with education, for which legislation makes it impossible for California to neglect. This goes out to even more, like the environment, transportation, corrections, labor, and natural resources, just to name a few— all things that the government needs to continue to provide funding for. Even if California was to have a magic $400 billion dollar budget, there is no way that the Golden State would be able to use every single bit of it solely on healthcare.

The worst part of the reality of this bill is that these are just three of the many flaws that are unaccounted for. In fact, the bill is so off-hand that Rendon even said that because of all the implications this proposal has lined up, “we would have to go to voters in order to approve the measure.” That is because of the blatant fact that legislators would need the approval of the people to go against passed legislation, like Proposition 98, in order to make this universal healthcare bill a reality.

The fractures become so apparent once California’s healthcare issue is no longer taken at face value. Yes, we are in dire need of change. Yes, we need to regulate the premiums of the countless people suffering under this system. But, if we are going to change something, if we are going to push for progression, let’s do it right the first time. Let’s not half-ass our way to a solution. The question at hand now, is not whether or not legislators show support for universal healthcare, the question is whether or not legislators are going to make a bill that is more than semantics and lip service.

Just to add another drop in the pond, if the bill gets approved, the only way for California to get the funding necessary, the 400 billion dollars, would be if it was federally issued.

Rendon noted, “it [SB 562] makes no mention of the fact that we would have to get a waiver from the Trump administration in order to use federal funds in order to finance the program.”

There is not one line that mentions how this bill will be something that our current president can get behind, enough to award the Golden State with more than $300 billion dollars for simply one sector of state government control.

Given all this proof, of how impotent the passing of SB 562 would truly be, it is hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that constituents are still unhappy with Rendon’s decision to halt its passing. It is to my conjecture that the reason why Californian democratic senators voted aye on the bill was to avoid having to go through whatever troubles Rendon is currently mired in— unhappy constituents, death threats, and even the risk of recall.

However, if Rendon is receiving flak for standing up and making sure that if change is going to be lead, it must be done so in a sound, proper way, it is a shame we do not have more politicians like him. With him being able to easily defend his decisions, against the harsh protesting of the CNA, kudos to the Assembly Speaker. What he did was so “revolutionary” and “unheard of” for a politician, that even the Los Angeles Times’ George Skelton called Rendon’s actions “heroic.”

So, what now? How do we fix this situation? For starters, let’s all be educated in our decisions. Before formulating opinions and ideas, let’s have a healthy diet of information that comes from more than one source in order to generate more inclusive and educative stances. Surely, let’s not be those who close their minds after hearing “Rendon shot down a universal healthcare bill,” because it is much more than surface value when it comes to politics. The fact that the public may choose not to dig deeper for their own knowledge and understanding is disheartening.

Let’s also stay away from replicating what Deborah Burger, co-president of the CNA, did earlier this August. In an opinion piece she submitted to the Sacramento Bee, Burger juxtaposed the truly extreme situation of a stage 4 breast cancer patient with Rendon’s stance on the SB 562 issue, implicitly dehumanizing the Assembly Speaker. Instead of using health patients as a mere talking point to “drive your message home,” we should be looking for ways to advise the co-authors of SB 562, so that their mistake will not be made again. Given all this, you would think Rendon has pledged his life against universal healthcare, which is just more “hosh posh.”

“I’ve been in support of single payer [universal healthcare] since before Obamacare came into the picture. I’ve worked for about 20 years providing social services to people in the non-profit sector. I take that very seriously. I’m much more interested in real services than I am in apparent victories and symbolism,” he said.

More importantly so, the CNA should be marching outside the offices of Senators Lara and Atkins, for even proposing a bill as lacking as SB 562. If universal healthcare will take off, coupled with strong support, the beginning of this revolutionary healthcare shift must be strong. We need to advise the politicians who represent us, so that they will be able to cater legislation that we need now, so that they get it right the first time.

“It’s up to the co-authors of the bill in the state senate,” said Rendon. “They’re the ones who brought the bill to us and they’re the ones who gave an incomplete bill and they’re the ones who should fix it.”

Hopefully we can get it right next time.

2 Comments

  • Reply Titus Wu August 17, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    Really high-quality opinion journalism, Omar. But I’d have to make a point you didn’t touch on: corruption. “Rendon himself has accepted over $100,000 in donations from pharmaceutical companies with another $50,000 from major health insurance companies. The party itself received over $2 million in donations from pharmaceutical and health insurers.” And these big companies are the ones who don’t support single payer. I highly highly doubt that Rendon totally was not influenced at all by these donations.

    But basic point: if Rendon had refused the bill and did not receive any corrupt money whatoever, I can respect his decision and logic that went towards that. But he didn’t. And neither do I trust him and the Dems who opposed it.

    Like

  • Reply Omar Rashad August 17, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    Thanks so much for the compliment, Titus!
    Now, it’s hard to not take into account that quote you cite, but in the end, all I can say to that is to reiterate a point I made in the column. The brunt of this matter is not about being pro or anti when it comes to universal healthcare, it’s about making sure that whatever first steps we make towards that progress is legitimate.
    It’s extremely difficult to give politicians the benefit of the doubt, so let’s not give that to Rendon. Let’s say Rendon was swayed due to high-paying financial contributors. Even then, it doesn’t retract from the fact that this bill, if passed through the Assembly, would be all talk and no action. The only good this bill would do would be for the PR image of every democratic senator who voted aye, even more to the co-authors of SB 562. It would continue the crippling trend of politicians worrying about face value rather than pursuing the change their constituents call for.
    No doubt, if Rendon was truly swayed by financial contributors, it’s blatant corruption, but so is leveling other responsibilities over the main priority every politician should keep close to the heart, coupled with the integrity they swear to, prior to taking office, and that’s to serve in the best interest of the people. I personally think Rendon made the right decision.
    But again, I don’t want it to seem like I’m pivoting from what you pointed out. I condemn any sort of corruption in government and if that was truly the case in this matter, it would be yet another case of politicians misleading the public. However, I have to say, because of Rendon’s past track record and where he came from, I have a doubt that was the case here. I mean he came from a nonprofit organization focused on revitalizing youth in the community. He seems close to his district, close to his heart. He seems like someone a lot of people can get behind.
    With all factors in play, he could have let the Assembly Health Committee vote on SB 562, but what good would that do? I think his decision did more good than bad, even if it did ruffle a few feathers.
    Thanks for something to chew on!

    Like

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