If the history of Canada’s health care system is any indication, the best chance for the the U.S. to have a single payer health care system that guarantees medical services to everyone is to enact it on a state-by-state basis.

The California legislature, firmly in Democratic control, had a golden opportunity to pass a single-payer health care bill last week. There was no reason it should not have sailed through the State Assembly – but thanks to the machinations of Speaker Anthony Rendon, Californians will have to wait another year before the bill will even come up for debate.

Anthony Rendon, nominally a Democrat representing Southeastern Los Angeles County, claims that State Bill 562, the Healthy California Act, “was sent to the Assembly woefully incomplete.”

If signed into law, the bill would have paid healthcare costs for all Californians, getting rid of the inflated premiums, the rising copays, and the high deductibles that plague health care consumers. Those flaws in the healthcare system make certain that private insurers and investors remain very rich.

Rendon told the Los Angeles Times that the bill contained “fatal flaws,” and “does not address many serious issues, such as financing, delivery of care, cost controls, or the realities of needed action by the Trump administration and voters.” Unfortunately, as is so often the case with bought-and-paid-for elected officials, Rendon is only telling half of the story.

In 2015, a story in the Sacramento Bee reported that California legislators received millions of dollars from drug companies, including Rendon who received a $36,000 donation. This past April, FollowTheMoney.org reported that Rendon, along with Governor Brown and California Senate President Kevin DeLeon received a total of $370,000 from organizations opposing single payer health care.

Over the past seven years, the three of them have been bribed by the health insurance industry to the tune of nearly $3.6 million. This massive pile of opposition cash guarantees that the majority of Californians who support single-payer are going to face a huge battle against virtually impossible odds in order to make health care a human right rather than a for-profit commodity.

Rendon’s actions provoked understandable outrage from supporters, such as the California Nurses Association. Voters who are expressing their displeasure by deluging his office with angry calls, posting on social media, and letting all his constituents know about his decision.

On the other hand, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, as well as prominent labor leaders and Planned Parenthood of California, expressed agreement with Rendon’s actions, citing a lack of specifics on how the law would be funded. According to Rendon, the bill was “a $400-billion proposal without a funding source,” which he says is “absolutely unprecedented.”

Even if the bill were to pass, there would be numerous roadblocks; some taxes would have to be raised, the law would have to get voter approval – and of course, the Trump Administration and the GOP Congress would go out of their way to block it by any means possible.

Nonetheless, one significant out-of-state supporter of SB 562, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, expressed his disappointment in Rendon. Sanders called on Rendon to reconsider.

In a statement, Sanders said,

At a time when the United States is the only major country on earth not to guarantee health care for all, and when tens of millions of Americans are uninsured or underinsured because of outrageously high costs, California has the opportunity to lead this nation in a very different health care direction. If the great state of California has the courage to take on the greed of the insurance companies and the drug companies, the rest of the country will follow. The eyes are on California today.”

Good luck on that.


K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.