By Evan Wagstaff
Special to Calbuzz
As progressives in Congress press President Obama to commit to a “public option” as part of health care reform, leading Democrats in the 10th Congressional District race are embracing an even more liberal single payer system.
With the spirited special election campaign heading into its final days before the Sept. 1 vote, three top contenders are telling voters they favor a single payer solution to overhaul the nation’s medical system, in which the federal government would replace private health insurance with a mandatory coverage program.
“Single payer is the simplest, most direct way to solve the health care problems in this country, both from a fiscal and medical standpoint,” said state Senator Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, one of the front-runners in the race. He said soaring medical costs under the current system are “unsustainable – it’s the next mortgage meltdown. As Republicans often say, if you can’t afford it, you shouldn’t keep funding it.”
Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, whom several polls have shown leading the pack, said that his support for a single payer plan is well-received by voters in the district: “I’ll tell you, some of my best applause lines come when I talk about health care reform,” Garamendi said. “There is a real hunger in the 10th Congressional District for universal health care … Medicare for all is very popular and people understand the advantages that it brings.”
State Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan also pledged her support for any kind of universal coverage, and included a single payer plan first in a list of possible alternatives. “We have to make health care the right of every American,” she said. “I will support single payer universal coverage, a public option, or a compromise plan that meets these requirements. Doing nothing is not an option.”
A single payer system, which is strongly supported by many liberal groups, has never been on the table in the Washington debate over health care, despite its popularity on the left.
A single payer plan would establish a taxpayer-financed, non-profit system to fund doctors, hospitals and other health care needs under a universal coverage program; the public option plan backed by liberal Democrats in Congress would basically maintain the current system of private insurance, but set up a government-backed insurance program as a competitive alternative to employer plans.
While many health care town hall meetings across the country have been disrupted by protests against reforms being considered in Washington, events in the 10th district have been more restrained.
DeSaulnier said that he had prepared himself for jeers and outbursts in discussions of health care, but has been pleased at the civility of discussions of the issue at campaign events.
“We had a few people who obviously disagreed with my positions, but they were very thoughtful and I think their tone was respectful of the process,” he said. “I was prepared for more anger and acrimony.”
The 10th District includes a large area of the East Bay between Solano and Alameda counties. The seat opened up when former Rep. Ellen Tauscher accepted Obama’s appointment to the State Department as the undersecretary of Arms Control and International Security.
With 14 candidates on the ballot, including representatives from the Peace and Freedom and American Independent parties, it is unlikely that anyone will capture the 50% plus one vote required to win the seat in the first round; if no one does, a run-off among the top finishers in each party will be held November 3.
While leading Democrats move to the left on health care, Republicans are trying to outdo each other in support of market-based solutions that reject government involvement in a reform package.
GOP contender Gary Clift, a retired police officer, for example, argued that healthcare in the U.S. is superior and so merits the cost of private insurance.
“Our current health care is the best, so it costs more,” Clift said. “People need to be willing to pay for health care.”
Other Republican candidates including business owner Mark Loos, businessman David Harmer, veteran Chris Bunch, and physician John Toth all agreed that the solution to the health care issue is to remove present government influence and allow the free market to govern the system.
Democratic candidate and investigator Adriel Hampton also came out in favor of a single payer healthcare system. Economic policy analyst Anthony Woods supports the competitive public option.
Calbuzz intern Evan Wagstaff is Opinion Editor of The Daily Nexus at UCSB.