August 29, 2006

Single-Payer Feuds

The big news out of California today is that the state legislature is on the verge of passing Sen. Sheila Kuehl’s single-payer health care bill, which, as the San Francisco Chronicle puts it, "would eliminate private insurance plans in California and establish a statewide health insurance system that would provide coverage to all Californians." (I’m not sure that’s quite accurate—the lengthy description here suggests that patients could still purchase private insurance to cover whatever services single-payer doesn’t; so it's more of a French-style system than Canadian.)

Anyway, the bill hasn't garnered nearly enough support to override the inevitable veto from Schwarzenegger, so I haven't bothered studying the policy itself. (If it was ever signed into law, though, it would be a good opportunity to prove once and for all that government-run health insurance can actually work.) I will note something interesting, though: According to this page, the bill has the support of eight locals in the SEIU.

I find that interesting only because Andy Stern, president of the SEIU, has generally opposed single-payer. In a June 17 op-ed to the Wall Street Journal, Stern argued that the existing "employer-based system of health coverage is over." But in a June 16th speech at Brookings he also said that "we need to find a system that is not built on the back of government…. I don't think we need to import Canada or any other system." So where does he stand? Perhaps most crucially, Stern, along with other Change to Win officials, participated in Schwarzenegger's July 25th Health Care Summit with various corporate executives and the like, a meeting widely viewed as an attempt to undermine support for Kuehl's bill.

So… it's interesting, though not terribly surprising, that the California SEIU and Change to Win unions aren't following Stern's lead—they voted to support Kuehl's bill at the California Labor Federation convention in July, and a number of them are angry at Stern's positions. Now conflicts between labor leaders and the rank-and-file are hardly novel, but it seems like this divide—along with similar rifts, no doubt, in other unions—could become much more significant if, say, Democrats ever take over Congress and get serious about discussing health care reform.
-- Brad Plumer 11:27 AM || ||