California's New Road to Health Care Reform

Standing on the east steps of the California state capitol yesterday for the announcement of the California deal on health care reform, I was keenly aware that we had reached a pivotal moment--an historic crossroads--in the search for real solutions to transform America's health care system.

Yesterday, California took a giant step towards assisting the growing number of hard working, tax paying, middle class families whose only health care plan is a prayer that they don't get sick; whose only doctor is an emergency room; and whose only realistic chance to life free of both increasing health care costs and being an illness away from financial disaster is the plan that passed the California State Assembly yesterday.

SEIU was there to endorse the health care reform plan on behalf of SEIU's 600,000 California members and the patients they serve.

The plan passed in California is practical, drawing from the lessons of a Republican Governor from Massachusetts and the plans of the three Democratic presidential front runners. The plan is principled, meeting the twin goals of reducing costs for the insured while expanding coverage for nearly 4 million uninsured.

And this plan is precedent-setting, because if California, the most populous and diverse state in the nation can make health care happen, then this country can get it done as well.

For those who say let's wait, procrastinate or engage in more debate--with all due respect I say the failed road to change for America's health care system is littered with the dreams of the perfectionists, guarded by the assassins of the special interests, and not well-traveled by the privileged with the gold standard of benefits.

The one single and repeatedly proven lesson Americans have learned in the decades of failed efforts of reform is simply this:


Waiting is just not an option for Susan in Altadena. Susan purchased a basic PPO policy with a high deductible back when she had the confidence of a young woman with few health troubles.

Recently, Susan was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. As you might imagine, she met her deductible quickly, and expected that her insurance would begin to start paying 80 percent of the remaining treatment. Instead, her insurance provider informed her that breast cancer was not covered under her policy because it wasn't a "catastrophic illness"--tell that to anyone who has lived with the disease. They refused to pay for any exams, lab tests, prescriptions or treatments.

When Susan tried to buy a better plan, she was turned down, told it would be about 10 years before they would consider it.

Because of her medical expenses, Susan today has a $12,000 medical bill sitting unpaid on her desk and mounting credit card debt. She is already delaying treatments because of the cost and hoping the cancer doesn't come back.

The California health care plan cannot wait because all over California--indeed all over this country--there are men and women and even children who like Susan, who cannot wait for health care reform.

California has started building a new road to reform, one I believe history will judge as the tipping point in the long sought dream of an America that offers every person who works the secure, affordable and quality health care for themselves and their families.

May we have the wisdom and courage to make that dream come true!

-Andy Stern, President of the Service Employees International Union

With 1.9 million members, SEIU is the fastest-growing union in North America. Focused on uniting workers in three sectors to improve their lives and the services they provide, SEIU is the largest health care union, including hospitals, nursing homes, and home care; the largest property services union, including building cleaning and security; and the second largest public employee union.