Our health is not a commodity to be bought and sold. We need a healthcare system that serves individual and community needs, not corporate profits. In Sacramento, I will fight to:
- Implement a single-payer, Medicare for All system to cover all California residents.
- Improve conditions for healthcare workers and patients by fighting understaffing and expanding workers' ability to collectively bargain.
- Preserve local hospitals, provide public support for accessible facilities and transit, and protect existing health coverage as we transition to Medicare for All.
- Implement a publicly-funded care coordination system between hospitals, social workers, school districts, and other care providers.
- Address drug addiction as a public health issue: decriminalize drug use and support comprehensive harm reduction and recovery programs.
- Increase funding and standards for healthy school food and nutrition education programs.
Health is not just a function of personal choices or biology. Health is social.
It is intimately tied to housing, education, working conditions, and the choices we make as a society about how to allocate resources and whose needs to prioritize. Safe and well-resourced public schools, housing for all, and a just economy are necessary components of any health justice agenda, and I plan to fight for all of these in Sacramento.
We must also radically transform the healthcare system itself. First and foremost, we must eliminate the private, for-profit insurance industry and transition to a single-payer program, or Medicare for All. The current private insurance system is enormously profitable for a few CEOs and shareholders, but a disaster for everyone else — needlessly complicated, prohibitively expensive, and too often deadly. In Sacramento, I will fight to bring California up to speed with the rest of the world in providing universal social health insurance.
In the meantime, as we fight for and implement a new single-payer system, we must also expand and protect people's health benefits and access under the current system. This means expanding access by investing in facilities and transit, improving conditions for healthcare workers, standing with employees as they resist benefits cuts, and providing public funding and administration for comprehensive healthcare systems that keep working-class and poor people from falling through the cracks.
I am a full-time children's mental health specialist for Contra Costa County. I will bring that ground-level experience to discussions and legislation in Sacramento aimed at improving Californians' physical, mental, and economic health. Since my first years as an elected leader, I have been an advocate working to win Medicare for All. In April 2011, long before introduction of the current single-payer bill SB 562, I co-authored a resolution adopted by the Richmond City Council supporting a prior single-payer proposal, the California Universal Health Care Act. I'm extremely proud to have the endorsement of the California Nurses Association and SEIU 1021, the largest healthcare workers' organizations in the East Bay. A strong majority of Californians support Medicare for All, and I will build on my professional and governing experience to win this crucial, popular demand for every resident of our state.
Medicare for All
In the Assembly, I will do everything within my power to bring Medicare for All to California. This can be accomplished one of two ways: we can either pass legislation like Senate Bill 562 that would create a state-level single-payer system, or we can work to expand federal Medicare coverage to every person living in California. On both the state and federal level, we must be clear: our society has the resources to provide public health insurance to everyone, and we have a moral responsibility to put those resources to use in service of the majority, not the elite wealthy few.
To be worthy of the name, any Medicare for All program must include five characteristics:
- A single public program for health coverage (not a public-private partnership and not a patchwork).
- Cost-free at the point of service (no co-pays, premiums, or deductibles).
- Cover every California resident regardless of employment or citizenship status.
- Provide comprehensive care to cover every health service that requires a medical professional.
- Include a just transition jobs program for those currently working in the health insurance industry.
With a program that meets these five criteria, we can begin to win true health justice in California.
Millions of people in California are uninsured, and even those with insurance lack access to the care they need due to prohibitive costs and corporate gatekeeping. We must build the political will to transform this system.
Senate Bill 562, also known as the Healthy California Act, was stalled in the Assembly last year by insurance-funded political elites. These politicians justified their move by claiming the law lacked a funding mechanism. However, deciding how to raise revenue through taxes for the services that the people of California need and demand is precisely the job of the state government. The Assembly should take up its responsibility to develop a funding mechanism for a single-payer system.
It is definitely possible for California — the largest economy in the United States, and the fifth-wealthiest economy in the world — to use our resources to pay for Medicare for All. In fact, we're already spending that money in the healthcare system. Independent economic analysis estimated that the program established by SB 562 would cost the state $331 billion to cover all California residents. That's less than the $368.5 billion currently spent in our for-profit insurance system, which leaves millions uninsured while costing a fortune in co-pays, premiums, deductibles and claim denials to those with insurance. We can fund single-payer with progressive taxes that ensure 95% of Californians will pay less for Medicare for All than their current health costs.
I will use my position in the Assembly to build a coalition of legislators who are dedicated to implementing single-payer in California. I will also build and maintain strong relationships to the growing popular movement for single-payer healthcare. The private insurance lobby spends big money to influence legislators in California. I will speak out against politicians who take that corporate money, such as State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon who blocked SB 562.
I will take every available opportunity to educate the public about the material benefits of single-payer, including dispelling rumors about its financial infeasibility floated by the self-interested insurance industry. I will also oppose weak substitutes for single-payer proffered by establishment politicians, such as multi-payer programs that preserve the private insurance industry, or mere expansions of "affordable access" through a means-tested program patchwork. These weak substitutes are financially less viable and politically unsustainable because they do not unite working people and statewide economic leverage for the success of public health coverage.
Improve conditions for healthcare workers and patients
Healthcare employees' working conditions are our healing conditions. When hospitals close facilities to reduce overhead costs and increase profits, the results are understaffed and overworked nurses, aides, technicians, doctors, and other healthcare workers. These pressures on health workers can lead to mistakes, accidents, provider burnout, and workforce attrition.
California healthcare workers face understaffed departments and are forced to work grueling overtime. This puts patients and employees at risk. We must make sure healthcare employers commit to safe staffing levels, competitive wages and supportive working conditions in order to keep them in our healthcare facilities and to prevent a healthcare provider crisis.
Nurse-to-patient ratios are established for patient and nurse health and safety. These ratios must be followed to protect quality care. Nurses put their lives on the line to save others' lives, and they have every right to refuse unsafe assignments. I will initiate or support legislation that strengthens nurse-to-patient ratio and assignment-refusal laws, and I will push to improve enforcement and strengthen penalties for facilities that break these laws.
We must also protect the ability of healthcare workers, and all workers in the state, to collectively bargain. State legislators have a responsibility to implement progressive laws for the public, while healthcare workers need to be able to advocate for themselves and and patient care quality through their unions. With a combination of legislation and strong unions for care providers, we can stop corporations than run our medical facilities from pursuing profit at the expense of workers' and patients' wellbeing.
Protect and expand healthcare access
In our densely populated district, AD 15, we have only two hospitals — one that is severely understaffed, and one that is under threat of closure. Such healthcare deserts — communities that lack access to vital healthcare professionals and institutions — exist all over rural and urban California. When we have Medicare for All, hospitals will no longer open and close based on where there's a lucrative market. Taxes will pay for all healthcare services, so facilities will be built where people need them. Until then, we must push the state to establish and fund clinics, hospitals, and transit in underserved areas.
We must also stop clinics and hospitals (such as Alta Bates) from being closed down simply because the company that runs them has determined that consolidation is better for profits. One way to keep these facilities open is by developing public administration of healthcare providers as an alternative to corporate, for-profit administration.
Currently, even if there is a clinic nearby, and transportation to that clinic is available, patients need insurance to afford the high costs of medical treatment. Millions lack insurance, and those with insurance are always at risk of losing it. As we fight for a fully public, universal health insurance system to solve this problem, we must also protect existing healthcare coverage via the Affordable Care Act and Medi-Cal from attacks spearheaded by the GOP and greedy corporations. As the federal government tries to undermine the ACA and dictate how eligible Medi-Cal recipients must live, we have to make sure that the vulnerable populations this program was designed to serve continue to have insurance.
Even when people have access to medical professionals and have insurance, too many people still fall through the cracks. From my work as a mental health professional for a public agency, I've come to believe that our state needs a publicly-funded, comprehensive care coordination program between community care providers including school districts, community colleges, social workers, hospitals, and public health agencies for the delivery of social, physical, and mental health services. We can minimize healthcare errors and make sure everyone is getting connected to the best care available to them only with a public system that integrates health and emergency medical services with interconnected and flexible communication protocols.
Finally, we must address the fundamentals of public health. To that end, I will push to increase funding and improve standards for healthy school food. Our children deserve highly nutritious meals that promote environmental sustainability, as advocated by leaders in districts around our state. I will push to increase funding for educational and media programs to teach children about food and health.
As a mental health professional for Contra Costa County, I take public health very seriously. And that includes making sure everyone’s kids get the vaccines they need. In 2015, the California legislature passed SB277, ending personal belief exemptions from vaccination requirements for entry into public schools. I support this law. Vaccination for children should be mandatory except for those who are immuno-compromised or have other medical conditions. The epidemiological evidence is clear: vaccination programs have saved millions of people from sickness and death. Community immunity depends on the vast majority of people being vaccinated. Anyone who refuses a vaccine is increasing the danger for those who cannot be safely vaccinated
In keeping with this public health approach, I will fight to decriminalize drug use. We should address drug addiction as a public health issue, not with prosecution and incarceration. We must stop reflexively imprisoning people who use drugs and redirect them toward harm reduction and addiction recovery services and comprehensive social programs. I will push for increased public funding for addiction and recovery programs, and will fight to include effective treatment, safe usage sites, and rehabilitation services in Medicare for All legislation.