On October 23, the Campaign for a Healthy California sponsored a presentation in Fresno about single payer healthcare for California. James Haslam, of the Vermont Workers Center, and Donna Smith, featured in Sicko, were two of the five panelists who impressed on us the importance of single payer universal health care and the grassroots effort necessary to obtain and sustain it. The Progressive Democrats of America and fifteen other groups hosted the Fresno event at the Communication Workers of America union hall, and approximately 60 people attended.
We learned that the successful effort to obtain universal, publicly funded health care in Vermont took enormous grassroots action. We learned about the use of the effective slogan "Health care is a human right" to overcome legislators' reluctance to do the "politically impossible." We learned that people's forums and organizing committees in many Vermont communities were very effective and in three years accomplished passage of a universal healthcare law, the first of its kind in the U.S.
In Vermont people showed up en masse when needed and five principles were established which were important in the fight: equity, accountability, transparency, universality, and participation. How these were implemented can be seen in a 4-minute video produced by the Vermont Workers' Center: A People's Struggle for Universal Healthcare: Video Update of the Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign.
The Vermont campaign learned how to immunize the public against the lies of the "deep-pocketed profiteers" (i.e. insurance companies). By insisting that a healthcare campaign is a human rights campaign, that human rights is the framework, that healthcare is not a commodity but a human right, the focus stayed on the moral issue rather than on financing and other details.
At the Fresno forum, the local leader of The Progressive Democrats of America ("Healthcare not Warfare") pointed out that California wastes $48 billion each year on insurance companies’ profits, lobbyists, advertising, executive pay, and legal costs to deny claims. If we avoid this waste, she said, and put into one pot our insurance premiums and taxes which already pay for health care for ourselves and others, we can pay for medical, hospital, dental and vision care for every resident of California. The single payer administrator would be the State of California, medical practices and hospitals would remain privately owned and employ their own workers, and we would choose our own doctors and hospitals.
For information about the possibility of single payer health care in California, see Affordable High-Quality Health care for All Californians. While action is occurring at the legislative level, vigorous grassroots actions throughout the state will be necessary to obtain the kind of universal, comprehensive health care needed in California.
More accomplishments of the Vermont Workers' Center on health care can be seen here. See also the fascinating video Vermont Can Lead the Way which documents the history of the grassroots campaign (8 min, 2010).This contains valuable information and techniques for anyone interested in political action at the local and state level.