Close to Home: Why nurses push for single-payer legislation

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This is in response to a Press Democrat editorial on Aug. 11 (“Thumbs down: Recall of Assembly speaker is a waste of resources”).

With the defeat, for now, of the cruel U.S. Senate bill to roll back the Affordable Care Act, some are asking why the California Nurses Association continues to push for expanding health coverage, through a Medicare-for-all type state bill, SB 562.

The simple answer — for our patients.

Patients like Shannon, who writes to us that even with her Covered California insurance plan, “I still have (a) high deductible, but now I have no savings to use to cover that deductible. It all goes to premiums. I don’t have money for out of pocket medical or dental needs.”

Or Charles: “The premiums for ACA Bronze plans are affordable, but the copays and deductibles are not; the silver plans are out of reach for my take home earnings to cover … Sincerely hoping the good state of CA will soon have a plan that all Californians can participate in.”

And Lynn: “My husband and I are self employed and therefore have been buying our health insurance for 15 years. We are just above eligibility for an ACA subsidy. Our insurance premium is $21,600/year for a family of four. Our deductible is $8,500. Our insurance doesn’t cover any doctors’ visits or anything much until the $8,500 deductible is met.”

They are among the 15 million Californians who have either no health insurance or struggle to pay medical bills, forced to make terrible choices about whether to get the colonoscopy they need, at a time when colon cancer deaths for white Americans under 55 are increasing, or put food on the table for their families.

A Kaiser Health tracking poll in March found that 43 percent of adults with health insurance have trouble affording their deductibles and 29 percent struggle to pay medical bills. Among the latter, 73 percent cut spending on household items, 61 percent have used up all or most of their savings.

Here in Sonoma County, we are not immune from this ongoing disgrace. Data from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research documents that in the district of Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, including much of our county, 24 percent of adults delayed filling prescriptions or getting medical services in 2014. One fifth of those adults were in only fair or poor health.

It will soon get worse. Insurance premiums are about to jump on average 12.5 percent next year, and as high as 30 percent in many areas of Wood’s district.

This is a health emergency for many in our community. SB 562 tackles these problems head on. It would eliminate premiums, deductibles and co-pays, and guarantee everyone is covered for most major medical needs, including hospital care, dental, vision, mental health and long-term care.

When Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon unilaterally blocked SB 562 from moving forward, after the bill had passed the state Senate, he barred public hearings and prevented introduction of any amendments to a bill he claimed was inadequate, even while the bill sponsors were submitting proposed amendments responding to his and other’s concerns. Isn’t the job of our elected officials to carry out a public process and make changes to bills they say are needed?

How long should we ask people who are in pain and suffering, or who are one car accident or exposure to one deadly disease to wait until those we elect are willing to act?

Nurses will never stop campaigning to guarantee health care for all. We’re calling on Rendon to release the bill and do his job, and insisting all Assembly members, including Wood, co-sponsor SB 562 and press Rendon to do what is right, for our patients, and for our community.

Deborah Burger is a registered nurse, co-president of the California Nurses Association and a resident of Sonoma County.

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