California Democrats Take Big Health Money, Shun Single Payer Health Care

Regardless of partisan values, when big money comes into play everything changes.

While most of the nation-wide attention has been focused on Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, another nearly as important health care battle has been unfolding in California. California’s Democrat-controlled senate passed SB 562 to create a universal health care system that would essentially provide Medicare and Medicaid for all. With super-majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly (house), it seemed that the Democratic Party was in a prime position to finally launch a universal health care system there. After all, who was going to stop the Democratic Party from doing what it wanted?

Turns out, the Democratic Party itself put the kibosh on universal health care efforts. Senate Bill 562 was shelved by Democratic State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon for the year, making it unlikely that universal health care will be revisited in 2017. This is despite the fact that some 66 percent of Californians support universal health care.

Rendon stated that he was encouraged by the discussion generated by SB 562, but argued that there were fatal flaws in the bill. It’s a bit odd that someone encouraged by the discussion was also the person who shut down said discussion. When shelving the bill, Rendon noted that there were serious issues in regards to controlling costs, funding, working with the federal government, delivery of care, and various other “realities.”

These issues are real, but why not continue to explore them by debating SB 562 and its merits and short-comings? Why not make the prospect of universal care a central topic of debate and study? Why sweep it under the rug? As is often the case when it comes to politicians making decisions, and especially decisions that go against the will of the people, it’s important to follow the money trail. You’re in for a shocker here; Rendon and various other Democrats have taken huge handouts from health insurance companies.

Rendon, along with many other California State Democrats, gets a lot of money from companies that benefit from the current system. In total, just Rendon himself has received more than $101,000 from Big Pharma, and another $50,000 from other health-related companies. Given the amounts of money being thrown around it’s not hard to imagine why Rendon would move so quickly to shut down a bill, even one with so much support within his own party and among his own constituents.

The funding doesn’t stop there, of course. Since 2012, The California Democratic Party has received $1.2 million dollars from specific groups opposed to the bill, as well as $2.2 million from Big Pharma and the health insurance industry. During the same time period, Big Pharma and health insurance companies have given another $2.7 million dollars to the 55 State Assembly Representatives.

Companies have proven willing to spend huge sums to ward off any efforts at health care reform that will hurt their bottom line. The pharmaceutical industry, for example, ponied up $100 million dollars to defeat a 2016 ballot measure in California to lower drug prices. These massive sums were a harsh reminder that private health care interests hold a massive amount of sway over not just legislators, but also voters. For Democrats in the State Assembly and Senate, the massive spending spree also signaled just how far health care companies are willing to go if their interests are threatened.

The trend of buying off politicians, even Democrat politicians that allegedly support universal health care and health care for all, is well established. Once upon a time, President Barack Obama was a proponent of universal health care. Then the health care industry threw wads of cash his way and suddenly the tune changed. The same could be said of Howard Dean, who brought universal health care to the center stage in his 2004 run for the Democrat nomination. Since then, he’s become one of the health insurance industry’s more ardent supporters and even went after Bernie Sanders for pushing for universal, single payer health care during the 2016 primaries.

On a side note, public spending is already estimated to account for about 70 percent of all spending on health care within California. So, expanding that spending to 100 percent might not be so extreme after all.

Brian Brinker

Brian Brinker is a political consultant and has an M.A in Global Affairs from American University.

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