Single payer healthcare and public education

More than 3.2 million Californians are estimated to be without health insurance and millions more whose coverage is delayed or unable to get needed health care services, including drugs, because of the cost. This number has increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as many workers lost their employer-based coverage or could not afford healthcare costs.

This dire situation affects not only all of us without coverage or enough funds, but our entire society, which must contend with the sick and suffering, the negative impact on our workforce and our communities, and the ever-increasing costs associated with fixing the problems. . (Even insured people are painfully aware of growing deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses, as well as routine denials of treatment by insurance companies.)

In recent years, advocates and lawmakers have pointed to a single-payer health care system as the solution. But what exactly is it?

The goal of single-payer healthcare is universal, guaranteed healthcare for everyone. It is based on the ideal that healthcare is a human right recognition that public health and well-being are moral obligations in human society.

In single-payer health care, all residents are equal. The services are paid for and controlled by a government or public agency through federal funding and taxes. This is sometimes called Medicare for all.

Single payer benefits students, schools and employees

Erika Fereste, left, and CTA members Shelly Ehrke and Mark Norberg are members of the Educators for Single-Payer group. They support CalCare, a bill that would provide California residents with a single-payer health care system.

In recent years, educators and union workers, including CTA members, have become some of the most vocal advocates for single-payer health care. Shelly Ehrke, a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, is part of Educators for Single-Payer, a group of California teachers that has met regularly on the issue.

“More and more teachers across California are strongly supporting and organizing for single-payer health care because we see firsthand how the inequities and skyrocketing costs of our current system are affecting schools, students and members,” says Ehrke.

These effects are harmful, he says.

Ever-increasing insurance premiums take billions of public education dollars away from our schools just for insurance company profits; millions of students lack consistent, high-quality health care to help them succeed in school; our negotiation teams spend an inordinate amount of time and resources negotiating for health care that could never be as comprehensive, consistent or cost-effective as single payer, instead of devoting that time to other educational matters; and despite the incredible work of our negotiation teams, members are still dealing with denials, deductibles, co-pays, network limitations, gaps in coverage and surprise bills.

Single-payer educators and other advocates use recent research and surveys to identify several primary reasons why a single-payer health care system benefits public education and workers. Among them:

  • Students who receive consistent health care have better test scores, attendance, concentration, graduation rates, social-emotional well-being, and long-term educational attainment.
  • Implementing single payer could save California schools more than $5 billion and cut district health care spending in half or more.
  • The savings from single-payer policies would allow school districts to invest in smaller class sizes, better wages, staffing, mental health supports, facilities, student resources and more.
  • Single payer would take health care off the negotiating table and free up our negotiating teams to focus on other important issues in education.
  • No union-negotiated health benefit will ever be as comprehensive, consistent, or cost-effective as single payer.

CTA member Magret Nunes supports single payer health care.

CTA member Margie Keh Bradley with Chris Stockton.

Coverage for everyone

Universal, guaranteed health care for everyone is suitable for an equal and socially just society. It also makes sense for single-payer teachers.

Under a single-payer system, every Californian would receive comprehensive health care with any provider of their choice from cradle to grave—expanded to dental care, vision care, long-term care, home care, prescriptions, medical devices, and more—all at a fraction of what the state, our regions, and individuals spend now. Ehrke says.

That’s why Educators for Single-Payer strongly believes that health care equity is a public education issue worth fighting for.

CTA State Council Single-Payer Forum, March 2023. From left: Shelly Ehrke, Ever Flores, Anthony Arinwine, Radha Bala, Tina Fredericks, Mari Lopez (CNA), Mark Norberg, Emily Rogers.

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