California Democrats Sell Out Single-Payer Healthcare

Faced with the specter of “Trumpcare,” the push for a single-payer health care system has been renewed, spreading throughout grassroots organizations and unions across the country. Energized by Bernie Sanders’s call for “Medicare for All,” and angry at the outright regression that access to health care suffered under Obamacare, many workers and youth are beginning to realize the utter inability of the capitalist system to provide this most fundamental of human rights.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), millions have been corralled into insurance plans that provide only the minimum of coverage at rates that are often more expensive than they were before Obamacare. The mandate that everyone must have healthcare or pay a fine has effectively funneled people towards private insurers, boosting their profits while providing the superficial appearance of reform. Meanwhile, over 30 million Americans are still priced out of coverage altogether.

Now, as the Republicans hastily stitch together a plan to “repeal and replace” the Frankenstein’s monster of the ACA, the state government of California—a flagship of the Democratic Party—has shown yet again just what kind of “resistance” they can offer: none whatsoever.

SB 562 was a bill that would have begun the process of acquiring funding sources and laying the groundwork for a system that could eventually provide “universal single-payer health care coverage and a health care cost control system for the benefit of all residents of the state.” While the bill had plenty of limitations—such as relying on increasingly insecure federal funding for over half of its projected budget—it would have nonetheless been a springboard from which future battles against the insurance companies could be waged.

Unsurprisingly, despite having a supermajority in both houses of the state legislature and the governorship, the Democrats had no stomach for the fight. Though the bill was approved by the Senate in June—in order to kick the political can down the road—Democratic Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon acted unilaterally to kill the bill, falling on his sword for the good of the party as a whole.

Citing sticker shock from the politically inflated $400 billion price tag that right-wingers attached to the bill, Rendon repeated the tired lie that single-payer is unfeasible because it is unaffordable. Never mind studies such as that by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, which found that single-payer would be cost-saving in the long run.

To understand the depths of this bankrupt argument, compare the National Health Service in the UK, which, despite being funded by around half of what the US spends subsidizing insurance companies, provides better care on average than what can be found in the US and covers everybody. To be sure, it has been under attack and suffered many cuts, but it still succeeds in providing universal coverage even though the UK’s national GDP is $80 billion less than that of the state of California.

While many on the left wing of the Democratic Party—dubbed “Berniecrats” by the media and party establishment—have expressed their shock and outrage at the decision to leave the bill dead in the water, Marxists understand that working within the auspices of the Democratic Party, this outcome was virtually guaranteed. Mass support for the bill’s stated aims notwithstanding—over 70% of California residents favor a single-payer system—the Democrats, who operate more as a corporation than a party, consider only their political bottom line, which is tied closely to the purse strings of their wealthiest backers.

Rendon has personally received contributions totaling more than $150,000 from Big Pharma and private insurers, while the whole of the Democratic Party took in more than $15 million in insurance company money in 2016. Such a party is organically incapable of defending the working class, as doing so would mean taking away from the share of social wealth going to the bourgeoisie.

If we are to combat the greed, wastefulness, and cold calculations of the for-profit healthcare industry, we will need a tool fit for the task: a mass party of, by, and for the working class. Even the achievement of single-payer in California would represent only the beginning of a battle for comprehensive, universal health care on a national scale. The only way we can protect such gains and ensure access to them by future generations is through the nationalization of the healthcare system as part of a democratically owned, structured, and planned economy.

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