While federal representatives continue to deliberate on the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), state legislators are working to provide residents with comprehensive health coverage.
Dozens of Inland residents attended a town hall meeting Sunday at the First Congregational Church of Riverside in support of Senate Bill 562. The legislation will give state officials an opportunity to establish a single-payer health system that is controlled and funded by the public.
The California Senate Health Committee is expected to hold a public hearing on the bill in April, according to California Partnership Executive Director Maribel Nunez.
“It is up to us to make sure [they’re] with us,” said Nunez of the Senate leadership.
Introduced by Senators Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) last month, the Healthy California Act intends to establish a public tax and health fund to help reduce the cost of co-payments, premiums, and prescription drugs. The bill also intends to give residents more flexibility in choosing practitioners.
Michael Lighty, Director of the California Nurses Association, said the push for SB 562 comes at an “amazing time” for the state.
“At the national level, the GOP wants to take health care from millions of people,” Lighty said. “And yet in California we have the opportunity to guarantee health care for all.”
The Republican alternative to the ACA–also known as Obamacare–is facing criticism from Democrats, moderate GOP leaders, and health organizations, who argue the new health plan may lead to millions of Americans losing medical benefits. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 224 million people are expected to lose health coverage within the next decade.
Lighty said he is highly critical of the health insurance industry for focusing on profit, rather than on health care. The Healthy California Act, Lighty explained, will shift health regulation from pharmaceutical and insurance corporations into the control of professionals and policy experts that are concerned about improving care.
“The money is going into the wrong places,” Lighty said. “We’re going to get rid of the 23 percent going to the insurance companies, eliminate billing departments, and most importantly control prices.”
Several health professionals and advocates gave personal testimonies at the Church on how the dismantlement of the Affordable Care Act will personally affect them and spoke on the need for universal health care.
Stephanie Gleason, a nurse with the San Bernardino County Department of Health, believes the repeal of the Affordable Care Act will only contribute to the economic devastation of low income families.
“I’ve seen people die because they can’t get access to what they need,” she said.
“Health care should be a human right. Together we can win.”
Gilberto Esquivel, President of the League of United Latin American Citizens Riverside chapter, is convinced health insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists will oppose the Healthy California Act “tooth and nail.”
“[Politicians] are being bought and paid for,” Esquivel said. “Next time you see them, ask how much they’re getting. That’s the reality.”
Senate Health Committee members Connie Leyva (D-Chino) and Richard Roth (D-Riverside) have yet to take a public position on SB 562, according to their respective communications directors.
A large march and rally in support of SB 562 is scheduled to take place in Downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, March 26 at Pershing Square.