PNHP California Achieves Significant Incremental Changes in Health Care

By Dr. Stephen F. Tarzynski

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Two years ago the board of Physicians for a National Health Program-California (PNHP-CA) decided to reposition itself and come out publicly in support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), despite its flaws, while continuing our commitment to Medicare For All. This repositioning has opened important doors for us both in terms of constituencies and very modest foundation support. 

We also believe that the contours of the political terrain and alignment of forces in our state have shifted significantly to permit movement in the direction of single payer. Evidence for this can be found in the tectonic shifts in race and age in California that have made the state even bluer and permitted important electoral victories. Two notable examples are the passage of Proposition 30 in 2012, which raised taxes on the wealthy to prevent cuts in the education budget, and Proposition 47 in 2014, which significantly altered the state’s criminal justice system in a more progressive direction by recategorizing some nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors. In addition, California has gone farther than any other state under the ACA in providing more coverage and benefits in the state health exchange and in covering all undocumented children.

PNHP-CA has also been busy developing a track record as a small but highly effective organization with a reputation for getting things done on a shoestring budget and two staff people.

In 2015 PNHP-CA achieved some victories and advances:

  • Along with the Health4All Coalition, organized a big Lobby Day pre-conference (four hundred attendees) in Sacramento on the Lara bill that would cover all undocumented immigrants and on single payer.

  • Played a leading role in getting coverage for undocumented children.

  • Got the California Medical Association to pass a resolution that will study alternate financing models including single payer.

  • Got the Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD-AFSCME) to endorse single payer.

  • Rolled out our Project White Coat, where bilingual CAHPSA students enroll individuals in underserved communities into Covered California (the state exchange) and talk about single payer. CAHPSA is our student affiliate, California Health Professional Student Alliance, with several thousand members across the state. The project is financed by a grant funded again for three years by Covered California.

  • Developed a five-year plan to win single payer in California (“Six Steps To Win”) and designed a fundraising plan to accomplish that goal.

Again, all on a shoestring budget with only two staff people. We’ve also built up an excellent and engaged board of directors and rebuilt a statewide single payer coalition, the Allcare Alliance, that has over 150 organizations so far, including the state public health associations. I would like to see 1,500 organizations, so we still have ways to go.

These are all baby steps on the road. We have reached a ceiling in our capacity and are hoping to significantly increase our funding base in 2016 in order to expand our capability and presence. Far more needs to be done before the single payer movement in California will become a force that can achieve its goal. PNHP-CA is a small but important part in that campaign.

A member since DSA’s founding, pediatrician Steve Tarzynski is on the board of directors of PNHP and serves as president of the California chapter.

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