California Nurses recharge their fight for Medicare For All
Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns for Medicare for All. | screenshot

OAKLAND, Calif.—Let’s say this for National Nurses United and its affiliate, the California Nurses Association, in NNU’s home state: When it comes to Medicare For All, called CalCare there, they never, never, never give up.

So in the heavily Democratic and pro-worker legislature, they’re going to try, try again to push CalCare through, bringing universal government-run single-payer health care to one of every eight people in the U.S.

And CalCare would also eliminate the corporate class of the health insurers who rip patients off through high premiums and co-pays while denying them care, forcing hospitals to short-staff their nursing corps, too—all while pocketing huge profit margins that defy description.

The whole point of the union’s campaign for CalCare is both universal care at a lower cost than insurers impose—by eliminating them and their overhead—and, as NNU keeps saying, to “put patients before profits.”

CalCare has foundered twice in the Golden State, once when former Gov. Jerry Brown (D) raised questions about its financing and a second time when it passed the State Assembly but was marooned in the State Senate.

The goal this time is to build momentum for the legislation (HB1690) this year, preparing for hearings, debate, and, hopefully, passage in 2024. Left unsaid: That’s a presidential election year when voters will presumably be paying more attention.

CalCare “would guarantee free, comprehensive, high-quality health care to all California residents as a human right through a single-payer system,” the union declares.

This time, the 100,000-member California union and Calcare’s sponsor, State Rep. Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, will spend 2023 marshaling popular support and lobbying the record numbers of new, diverse, progressive and “transformative” lawmakers of color whom voters sent to Sacramento last fall, says California Nurses Association President Sandy Reding.

“California nurses are renewing our fight to put health care back in the hands of people, not the insurance companies hunting for their next buck,” Reding said when Kaira unveiled this session’s version of CalCare.

“With an even larger Democratic supermajority this session, there are no excuses for Sacramento to deny Californians guaranteed health care through CalCare,” Reding added. “Nurses look forward to working with Assemblymember Kalra to build support for a single-payer health care system that puts patients above profits.”

“We know the transition to a single-payer healthcare system will not happen overnight, but with continued dedication in partnership with passionate allies, we will keep up the momentum and bring us closer to a truly accessible and equitable healthcare system for all Californians,” said Kalra, who chairs the State Assembly’s Progressive Caucus.

The union said, “there are principles of CalCare which  CNA would never compromise on.” But its year-long campaign will let state lawmakers hear from constituents—especially low-income and middle-class constituents—“and give feedback while nurses and community allies organize and build power and support for CalCare.”

Polls consistently show majority support for single-payer as a concept, especially among low-income constituents and people of color, the union added.

The union also expects the usual multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign of lies and distortions by the insurers and other corporate interests.

“Fierce, dogged organizing by nurses and our community allies is the reason why CalCare advanced through the Assembly Health and Appropriations committees last session and why CalCare is on the table again,” the union’s government relations director, Puneet Maharaj, said when Kaira introduced HB1690.

“The billion-dollar insurance industry will come forward with their lies, complaints, and army of lobbyists but nurses see every day why Californians desperately need CalCare. We have the facts and the people behind us. In partnership with Assemblymember Kalra, who has shown his dedication to CalCare, we’re ready to take on corporations who stand against health justice,” Maharaj concluded.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.