By Barry Hermanson
I met Don Bechler during the successful living wage campaign in San Francisco in the late 1990s. As a result, 20,000 workers received a raise in pay. Many joined a union. After that campaign, he recruited me to join the fight to achieve an Improved Medicare for All. Over the years, we became good friends. Don died in October. The movement has lost a great champion. Health care advocates all over the country are mourning his passing.
Don created an organization called Single Payer Now. His brochure had these words: “To Win Single Payer Health care in California we need five million identified campaign supporters.” I agree. The fight for better health care in California will be won at the ballot box. Republican legislators oppose it and Democrats work to make incremental improvements to Obamacare. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislators are silent during a pandemic. Political contributions from the for-profit health care industry buys that silence.
Rallies, marches, street corners, City Hall, Sacramento and Washington D.C. were all good places to be an advocate for better health care. Don made many calls recruiting people to come. For years, Single Payer Now mailing parties were held in my home. Sometimes, there were so many volunteers that people would be working in the living, dining and breakfast rooms. I cooked dinner for anyone who was still working at the end of the day. There were many wonderful political, health care and organizing conversations around the table. Don was an excellent organizer.
“Among the public overall, 63% of U.S. adults say the government has the responsibility to provide health care coverage for all, up slightly from 59% last year. Roughly a third (37%) say this is not the responsibility of the federal government, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted July 27 to Aug. 2 among 11,001 adults.” (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/09/29/increasing-share-of-americans-favor-a-single-government-program-to-provide-health-care-coverage/)
63% is good news for longtime health care advocates. Without opposition spending, that level of support is enough to win an election. Health care profiteers will will spend hundreds of millions of dollars, whatever it takes, to defeat us. For-profit Dialysis Clinics spent more than $100 million to defeat an initiative this November to regulate them. That amount will be small compared to the opposition to an initiative to remove profit from health care in California.
We are not ready to go to the ballot. In addition to organizing on legislation, influencing politicians and educating voters, much work needs to be done to identify supporters. More than 17 million Californians cast ballots in the November election. Don’s number of identified supporters should be updated to nine million: 50% plus 1 to win.
One third of Californians rely on Med-Cal for their health care. That equals 13 million people. Accessing quality care is difficult. Doctors are reluctant to accept Medi-Cal patients because Medi-Cal physician reimbursement rates are low. In addition, how many people can’t afford to use their health care insurance? High co-payments and deductibles before insurance payments kick in keep many from calling their doctor. Millions do not have any insurance. “Almost four in 10 Californians are living in or near poverty. “ More than 15 million people. (https://inequality.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/PovertyinCA19.pdf )
“As the myth-busting website Snopes points out, “contrary to popular belief, Congressional members do not receive free health care.” Instead, they choose a gold-level Obamacare policy and receive federal subsidies that cover 72% of the cost of the premiums.” (https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/25/heres-how-much-members-of-congress-pay-for-their-health-insurance.html)
“In Canada, everyone is covered automatically at birth – everybody in, nobody out.”
“In Canada, coverage is not tied to a job or dependent on your income – rich and poor are in the same system, the best guaranty of quality.”(https://www.healthcare-now.org/blog/21-ways-the-canadian-health-care-system-is-better-than-obamacare/ )
When we go to the ballot, voters who don’t have access to good health care will not be influenced by the arguments of profiteers who oppose us. f they vote, we will win better health care for everyone in California.
“Don’t mourn. Organize!” is a slogan I learned from my union friends. Don would agree.
Winning is difficult, not impossible. That’s why I keep fighting.
Barry Hermanson is a Green Party of California Coordinating Committee member, GPCA representative to Healthy California Now (a statewide coalition of organizations and activists dedicated to establishing a single-payer Medicare For All system in California) and a former small-business owner. Contact him at Barry@Hermansons.com or (415) 255-9494.