Politics and Campaign Donations Hold Up California’s Single Payer Health Law

Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

The Speaker of the California Assembly, Anthony Rendon, announced last Friday that he is shelving the Healthy California Act for the rest of the legislative period. The act is a single-payer healthcare law, which the California Senate already passed. If the pending bill is passed through the legislature, California would become the first state to guarantee healthcare to all of its citizens.

Speaker Rendon, a Democrat, argued that the law in its current form is woefully incomplete, he said. Governor Jerry Brown, who supported single-payer healthcare when he ran for president in 1992, also opposed the bill. The California Nurse’s Association, which had spearheaded the law, expressed outrage that it was shelved. Senator Bernie Sanders also tweeted last Friday, calling on Democrats and Speaker of the California Assembly to reverse his decision and let the bill proceed to a vote.

Joining us today to discuss the Healthy California Act and its fate is Bonnie Castillo. She is a Registered Nurse and Director of the Registered Nurse Response Network. She’s also served as the Government Relations Director for the California Nurses Association. Good to have you with us, Bonnie.

BONNIE CASTILLO: Nice to be here, thank you.

SHARMINI PERIES: Bonnie, the California Senate already passed this bill. As I said, Governor Brown is not very supportive of the bill at this moment. Give us a sense of what’s going on politically, there. What’s in the bill? Why did Rendon stop it from proceeding on the floor? Of course, why Governor Brown is opposed to it.

BONNIE CASTILLO: Well, I think you said it, this is politics instead of leadership. We had a very full and active debate and discussion in the Senate and we had hearings that were seriously packed in the Senate Health. Hundreds of folks came to the initial hearing and we heard from all of them. It passed, as you said, it passed the Senate overwhelmingly.

As we were proceeding to the assembly, we, waiting for … It was in the Rules Committee where it gets assigned. We were waiting for the assignment. Typically, that would have been the Assembly Health Committee. Instead, on Friday, this past Friday, late, about a quarter to 5:00, we heard, not from the speaker, right? Not from the speaker the day before, half hour before, anytime, we heard from the press that Speaker Rendon had decided, had decided himself in a very bizarre-like fashion, that he was going to hold the bill. That he was recommending this based on that it was incomplete.

Now, that, for us, it is derelict. It’s a derelict action based on … What we’re hearing is he’s essentially saying that it was an incomplete bill. That’s simply not the truth. The fact of the matter is we have, as I said, we had a very good discussion, and went through the Senate. Actually, the issue of financing, we commissioned a study. We wouldn’t have commissioned a study that wasn’t peer reviewed or scholarly. We have an excellent scholarly study that examines and provides mechanisms for financing.

Yet, when we were ready to go through the assembly process with the people, because we do have a majority of Californians who are looking for relief, looking for leadership so that we can have guaranteed healthcare for every single Californian. He ripped that process away from them. That’s not a leader. That’s clearly, it resembles what has happened at the federal level. It was secretive. As I said before, we are the sponsors of this bill, we weren’t even notified. We are responding.

He claims to protect people. He said he’s protecting the legislature. What we know is he’s not protecting anyone in California. In fact, he’s abandoned them. We are continuing our actions and pressures today. We’re at the state capitol. Yesterday, we were in his district office with hundreds, within days hundreds showed up in his district office to do a die-in.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. The California Senate, when they passed this bill, Bonnie, they passed it 23 to 14. It wasn’t like it was on the border and so forth. Then, of course, we have economist Robert Pollin, who we’ve interviewed here before, just after he had made a presentation to the Senate and argues that this is actually cost efficient for California.

That is one of the issues being raised, at least by the Chair of the Legislature, Rendon, that the cost issues haven’t quite been issues. Where, in fact, it has been sorted out. Based on the presentation Robert Pollin made, Senate voted in favor of the bill. What other underlying issues are there that they’re not speaking of, which leads both Governor Brown and the Chair of the Legislature to hold off on passing this bill?

BONNIE CASTILLO: Well, I think you said it, there’s faux arguments here with regards to the cost. Not taking into consideration the cost that we’re already paying and how much we’re already spending. With no checks, in terms of the escalating cost, and the fact that people are suffering and people are not … As nurses, we see the effects every single day in our workplace. We know that people are not only delaying care, they’re not getting … By the time that we see them, their conditions are so exacerbated because they didn’t have care, or are delaying care.

In terms of what’s underlying this, well we know is that this is simply them … When I say them, certainly the Speaker Rendon basically being beholden to the insurance companies, and to the healthcare industry, to those donors that fund their campaigns to get re-elected. They’re focused on getting re-elected and fundraising. You know, we-

SHARMINI PERIES: I have to say, Bonnie, in Robert Pollin’s arguments that he presented, he actually showed, through economic statistical analysis, that Californians would actually be saving billions of dollars if they go ahead and do this, by various preventative care measures and referring people to clinics for healthcare, rather than what they do when they don’t have insurance, which is go to emergency. There’s various ways in which California can actually save money with the single payer system here.

Is that argument even being articulated in the legislature at this time?

BONNIE CASTILLO: Well, that’s what we would like to be presenting now. As Registered Nurses, we know that continuity of care, especially getting early primary care and getting it, as I said, in a continuous manner in terms of addressing illness and injuries when they first occur. That obviously makes sense in terms of dealing with … As opposed to waiting until you’re very, very ill, are not getting any kind of preventative care.

By the time you show up into the emergency room, what we see is the patients are in very, very bad condition. We know, as nurses, that preventative care and prevention actually does make a huge difference in terms of not only restoration of health but really, it’s economical.

SHARMINI PERIES: As I stated in the intro, Senator Bernie Sanders has gotten in on this. Also, there is incredible amount of statistics available right now where Democrats and people who voted for the Democrats actually support single-payer system in this country as well. Therefore, is there any chance that this bill is going to be brought back for consideration, as Bernie Sanders is calling for?

BONNIE CASTILLO: Well, they’re taking a big political risk. They’re actually calculating that this could be done, in fact they thought that it could be done without anyone noticing, without anyone caring. That’s actually not the case. Obviously, there’s been a tremendous response and backlash, and calling out of the lack of leadership. This is the Speaker of the State of California who essentially refused to give the people their day in the state assembly. This is a real … It is essentially the Democratic process has been ripped away from them. That is not going to stand. This is not something that he will be able to get away with.

Now, as I said, we also are calling out all of the legislators. They have to take a stand. This becomes, “Which side are you on? Are you on the side of Californians and patients? Are you on the side of the insurance companies and their drive for increasing profits?” This is really what it comes down to. You know, there’s so many examples of where they have refused to stand up to the insurance companies, to the pharmaceutical companies, to the healthcare industry time and time again. They refuse to put any kind of cost control, regulatory measures. They’ve had many opportunities and now …

I mean, what’s happening at the national level, in terms of the lack of compassion and leadership. This is the time where we in California could set the national example. We could do that but we need leaders. What has become very apparent is that these leaders are not standing up. They are not standing up for good policy, good policy that actually makes a difference in people’s lives. People are really struggling at this time. This is not the time for engaging in this backdoor … I mean, well, obviously, you know we are profoundly disappointed, but we’re angry too. The people are angry. This is not going to stand.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Bonnie, I thank you so much and all the best with your efforts to get this back on the floor of the legislature of California.

BONNIE CASTILLO: All right, thank you very much.

SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.