Whether about religion or refreshments, it seemed like everyone was trying to capture attention on the Prado at Balboa Park Saturday morning.
For Mariel Valle, the irresistible pitch was delivered by an earnest high school sophomore holding up a sign for something called “CalCare.”
Learning that this was an initiative to create a single payer health care system in California, Valle decided to sign a petition, adding her name to the roster of supporters for an initiative led by the California Nurses Association.
The Bonita resident said she previously had health coverage through her job, but that has gone away as she went back to school.
“We make too much to get the paid for California health, but we don’t make enough, really, to make ends meet,” Valle said.
Single-payer systems, such as the United Kingdom’s National Health Service and the Medicare program in Canada, largely do away with private health insurance coverage and instead have a public agency handle health care financing for all residents who remain free to choose where to receive their medical services.
Often called the public option or Medicare for all in the United States, the idea has gained support in recent years, according to tracking polls from the nonprofit and nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. Democrats, polls have found, tend to support single payer more frequently than Republicans.
If single payer is to get any traction in California, finding many like Valle will be necessary, especially in the face of what has been daunting push-back from a broad range of industry interests.
Last year, AB 1400, a bill called the California Guaranteed Health Care for All Act — CalCare for short — died in committee with opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce which — joined by organizations that represent health insurance companies and health providers in a lobbying group called Protect California Health Care — publicly called the legislation a job killer.
A similar piece of legislation dubbed the Healthy California Act, which was co-sponsored by San Diego Sen. Toni Atkins in 2017, suffered a similar legislative flame out in 2018.
But the California Nurses Association, representing more than 100,000 workers in California, clearly still believes in the single-payer system, moving this weekend to fuel grassroots support during 51 “canvassing” events held statewide.
A small group of five volunteers fanned out in Balboa Park Saturday, finding that many simply shrugged and walked away when approached about a topic as complicated as universal health care. Most people seemed to simply be soaking up a rare bout of sunshine in-between recent relentless rain storms.
The group was led by Annelise Mages, a sophomore at San Diego High School. Strikingly unafraid of talking to adults, she said she was shocked to learn that health care coverage was not a universal certainty when her father was diagnosed with cancer. He died when she was just eight years old.
She said that experience put her in contact with exhausted health care workers who were clearly overworked and also with the crushing cost of a major diagnosis.
“We were fortunate enough to have good coverage, but otherwise, his cancer treatments would have cost, like, half a million dollars.
“The fact that families are having to deal with the illness of people that they love, and the cost, when that’s not a consideration in any other first-world country, it’s horrifying, and it really speaks to how much our society has kind of let the health and well being of our population languish to support the ideals and the motivations of corporations over the public.”
While many say, and have said, that a universal health care system is simply too expensive to pull off and quality will suffer, she notes that the status quo is not acceptable, especially since America spends more per capita on care than any other nation.
“I want to go into medicine and pursue a career as a physician, but I don’t really think that I would want to be a doctor in this system, so I’m going to try to change it before I get there,” she said.