Organizing to win!

Don Bechler, founder of the California health care advocacy organization Single Payer Now, died in October. With his death, the movement has lost a great champion; healthcare advocates all over the country are mourning his passing.

by Barry Hermanson

I met Don Bechler during the successful living wage campaign in San Francisco in the late 1990s, after which 20,000 workers received a raise in pay and many of them joined a union. Following the campaign, Don recruited me to the fight for an Improved Medicare for All. 

Over the years, we became good friends. Don died in October. With his death, the movement has lost a great champion. Healthcare advocates all over the country are mourning his passing.

Don created an organization called Single Payer Now. His brochure states, “To win single payer healthcare in California we need 5,000,000 identified campaign supporters.” I agree. 

The fight for better health care in California will be won at the ballot box. Republican legislators oppose it while Democrats work to make incremental improvements to Obamacare – and Gov. Newsom and legislators remain silent during a pandemic. Political contributions from the for-profit healthcare industry buys that silence.

Rallies, marches, street corners, city hall, Sacramento and Washington were all good places to be an advocate for better health care. Don made many calls recruiting people to attend actions. For years, Single Payer Now mailing parties were held in my home. 

Sometimes, there were so many volunteers, people would be working in the living, dining and breakfast rooms. I cooked dinner for anyone who was still working at the end of the day. There were many wonderful political, health care and organizing conversations around the table. Don was an excellent organizer. 

“As the myth busting website Snopes points out, ‘contrary to popular belief, Congressional members do not receive free health care.’ Instead, they choose a gold-level Obamacare policy and receive federal subsidies that cover 72 percent of the cost of the premiums.”

“Among the public overall, 63 percent of U.S. adults say the government has the responsibility to provide health care coverage for all, up slightly from 59 percent last year. Roughly a third (37 percent) say this is not the responsibility of the federal government, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted July 27 to Aug. 2 among 11,001 adults.” From https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/09/29/increasing-share-of-americans-favor-a-single-government-program-to-provide-health-care-coverage/.

Sixty-three percent is good news for longtime healthcare advocates. Without opposition spending, that level of support is enough to win an election. Healthcare profiteers will spend hundreds of millions – whatever it takes – to defeat us. For-profit dialysis clinics spent over $100 million to defeat an initiative to regulate them this November. That amount will be small compared to the opposition to an initiative to remove profit from health care in California. 

We are not ready to go to the ballot. In addition to organizing legislation, influencing politicians and educating voters, much work needs to be done identifying supporters. More than 17 million Californians cast a ballot in the November election: Don’s number of identified supporters should be updated to 9 million – 50 percent plus one to win.

One third of Californians rely on Medi-Cal for their health care. That’s 13 million people. Accessing quality care is difficult, as doctors are reluctant to accept Medi-Cal patients because physician reimbursement rates are low. 

“In Canada, everyone is covered automatically at birth – everybody in, nobody out … coverage is not tied to a job or dependent on your income – rich and poor are in the same system, the best guarantee of quality.”

In addition, how many people can’t afford to use their health insurance? High co-payments and deductibles before insurance payments kick in keep many from calling the doctor. Millions do not have any insurance whatsoever. “Almost four in 10 Californians are living in or near poverty,” more than 15 million people. From https://inequality.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/PovertyinCA19.pdf.

“As the myth busting website Snopes points out, ‘contrary to popular belief, Congressional members do not receive free health care.’ Instead, they choose a gold-level Obamacare policy and receive federal subsidies that cover 72 percent of the cost of the premiums.” From https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/25/heres-how-much-members-of-congress-pay-for-their-health-insurance.html.

“In Canada, everyone is covered automatically at birth – everybody in, nobody out … coverage is not tied to a job or dependent on your income – rich and poor are in the same system, the best guarantee of quality.” From https://www.healthcare-now.org/blog/21-ways-the-canadian-health-care-system-is-better-than-obamacare/.   

When we go to the ballot, voters who don’t have access to good health care will not be influenced by the arguments of profiteers who oppose us. If they vote, we will win better health care for everyone in California.

“Don’t mourn. Organize!” is a slogan I learned from my union friends. Don would agree. Winning is difficult; not impossible. That’s why I keep fighting. 

Barry Hermanson is a Green Party of California Coordinating Committee member, GPCA representative to Healthy California Now, a statewide coalition of organizations and activists dedicated to establishing a single-payer Medicare For All system in California, and a former small business owner. Contact him at Barry@Hermansons.com or 415-255-9494 or write to him via the Bay View.