SACRAMENTO, CA — The State Senate on Thursday dealt what is likely to be a deadly blow to efforts to bring universal single-payer health care to California during the current legislative session with the 19 – 15 vote failure of Senator Mark Leno’s SB 810 to pass out of the Senate. While the legislation has been granted reconsideration, probably on Tuesday, it is doubtful that the bill will gain the additional two votes needed for passage.
Among those voting against the measure was State Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), one of only two Democrats voting against the bill.
Senator Correa told me on Friday that he did not support SB 810 because he sees the issue as better addressed at the federal level. He also believes that there are more important issues to be addressed at the state level. “Health care is important, but education is also important,” Correa said. “But with the Governor trying to pass a $7 billion increase in taxes to prevent cuts to education in the state, we shouldn’t be trying to pass a $200 billion single-payer health care plan that we aren’t sure will be fully paid for.”
Proponents and the Legislative Analyst’s Office say that the costs of the proposal will be covered by a combination of existing government funding and the diversion of current employer health care contributions going to insurance carriers to the program through a stable payroll tax of around eight percent.
Correa expressed concern that the legislation did not have the funding issue worked out and put off that determination to later. “Why would I want to abdicate my responsibility without knowing how it would be paid for,” Correa said. “I remember the mistakes the legislature made with deregulation of the electricity industry. We’re still paying for that mistake, an example of good intentions that didn’t work out. We need to make sure it’s done right.”
This was not the first time that Senator Correa has voted against universal single-payer health care legislation. In 2010 and 2008 Correa was the only Democrat to vote against similar bills. Progressive activists have suggested that the financial support from the insurance and health care industries for Senator Correa’s campaigns has played a role in his position on universal healthcare. Since he took office in 2007, Correa has accepted more than $102,000 through June of 2011 (according to Maplight and 2011 California Campaign Finance reports).
Correa has said that his central Orange County district is a more conservative district where progressive ideas like universal single-payer health care are out of sync with the will of the voters. Correa recently told the Voice of OC:
“As an elected official, as a candidate, my goal has been to support the voters, not a special interest group. I don’t look at scorecards to guide my votes,” Correa said. “I look at the needs of my constituency.
“I’ve only been living in this district for 50 years. Every time I go to church, I look at my constituents in their eyes. They just finished electing me by the biggest margin of my career.”
Senator Correa’s claim of looking to the needs of his constituents is puzzling in light of the high percentage of uninsured in is central Orange County district. The 2011 Community Indicators Report pegs the number of uninsured residents of Orange County at 16.1 percent, higher than the national average of 15.3 percent. Latino’s in Orange County have an uninsured rate of 23 percent and low income residents are uninsured at a rate of 25 percent. Senator Correa’s 34th Senate district has the highest percentage of Latino residents and the highest percentage of low income residents in Orange County.
Progressives are not buying Correa’s “conservative district” argument either. Greg Diamond, blogger and the current Democratic challenger to GOP Senate Leader Bob Huff, has derided Correa for his vote and wrote in a caption on a picture in his post:
When the political body is infected by a foreign object, such as a plan to offer health insurance sufficient to cover the poor and middle class, the immune system sends out special blood cells, called LouCo-cytes, to defend against the invaders. An excess of these cells can lead to a dangerous condition known as “LouC0rrhea.”
Correa’s predecessor in the Senate, Joe Dunn, had one of the most progressive voting records in the Senate during his two terms, easily winning reelection in 2002. If voter registration margins are any indication, the seat is not nearly as conservative as Correa would have us believe.
Correa’s “federal issue” argument is confusing given the fact that States, not the federal government, are primarily responsible for the regulation of health insurance companies, and the distribution of federal health care aid for the poor through the state’s Medicaid program, MediCal. In fact, the Affordable Care Act allows for states to create their own single-payer universal health care program as a way of meeting the requirements of the Act.
It was clear to me from my conversation with Senator Correa that he isn’t likely to change his mind on the issue. The standard of having all the financing clearly planned out in advance, and balanced to the penny is both unlikely and unreasonable.
Universal single-payer healthcare is the only real solution to slow down the rise of health care costs in California. We need to start somewhere, and SB 810 is a good start in that direction. It is right for California, and it is right for the long-term needs of all Californians. Universal single-payer healthcare would also provide business interests with something they have been complaining about for a long time, stability and predictability of health care costs.