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NUHW’s helping drive California toward Medicare for All

NewsApril 27, 2022

A commission created by Governor Gavin Newsom to study how California can transition to a single-payer Medicare for All healthcare system issued a game-changing report on April 25 that found that creating a unified financing approach to healthcare could save 4,000 lives and as much as $500 billion over the next decade.

The commission, which includes a broad array of lawmakers, patient advocates, healthcare providers, and policy experts, found that health care costs in California would jump 30 percent over the next decade if the state maintains its current private insurer-based system.

“This is really a new day for health care reform in California,” Healthy California Now president and NUHW consultant Michael Lighty told the San Francisco Chronicle.

NUHW, though its work helping lead the Healthy California Now coalition of organizations that support single-payer healthcare, has been instrumental in both forming the commission and in helping guide its work.

“We have a long way to go before we realize the dream of Medicare for All in California, but we should take a moment to celebrate this report,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “It’s one of the most compelling cases for single payer ever issued by a governmental body, and our union played a big role in making it happen.”

The commission endorsed a “unified financing” system that would pay for the health care of all Californians. The commission’s findings included:

Health services for Californians will cost $517 billion in 2022. That’s over 16 percent of our total economy.

If we don’t transition to a single-payer system, health care will cost an additional $158 billion a year by 2031 – not counting inflation. In other words, health care will consume more of our economy, leaving less to spend on other essentials.

By contrast, California could save $500 billion over the next decade by switching to a single-payer system. The savings would come from eliminating insurance industry profits, reducing administrative waste, and limiting the prices charged by drug companies, hospitals, and physician groups.

We could use a portion of those savings to create a universal Long Term Support Services program for families of senior and disabled people. That would ease a huge burden on millions — and even after financing that program, our state would be better off economically than if we stick with our current, broken health care system.

The report also points to some key next steps:

The governor’s administration must engage the federal government to understand what it is willing to support. Federal programs pay for 40 percent of all the health spending in this state, so the Biden Administration’s cooperation is indispensable.

The state must lead a process of policy planning to guide the legislature when it ultimately considers a detailed plan. This process must address questions like: how is patient care going to be coordinated under a single-payer system? How are providers going to be reimbursed in a way that ensures equitable care for all, and that encourages adequate staffing levels? And how will the new system be held accountable to residents?

Intermediate steps can be taken to build the infrastructure a single-payer system will need – including a state office that sets spending targets, a centralized data exchange for patient records, and expanding existing programs (like Medi-Cal) to cover as many of the uninsured as possible.

Lighty told reporters that the governor’s leadership is essential to moving forward with the transformation of California’s healthcare system. “The reports of the demise of single payer in California are greatly exaggerated,” he told CalMatters, “because this report counters them and indicates that there is in fact a path forward for what they call unified financing.”