Single-Payer Health Care and Public Education

It estimates that more than 3.2 million Californians are without health care insurance, and millions more have delayed coverage or are unable to access needed health care services, including drugs, because of cost. That number grew following the Covid-19 pandemic, as many workers lost their employer-based coverage or could no longer afford the cost of health care.

This dire situation affects all of us not only those without coverage or adequate funding, but our society as a whole, which must contend with illness and suffering, a negative impact on our workers and communities, and ever-increasing costs to fix problems. (Even people with insurance are all too familiar with rising deductibles and out-of-pocket costs, as well as insurers routinely denying care.)

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

The goal of single-payer health care is universal, guaranteed health care for all. It is based on the ideal that health care is a human right a recognition that public health and welfare are moral obligations in a humane society.

With single payer health care, all residents are equally covered. Services are paid for and administered by a government or public agency through federal funding and taxes. It is sometimes referred to as Medicare for all.

Single-payer benefits students, schools, workers

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

In recent years, educators and unionists, including CTA members, have been vocal supporters of 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 educators who meet regularly on the topic.

More and more educators across California are strongly supporting and organizing for single-payer health care because we see firsthand how the inequities and rising costs of our current system are affecting our children. schools, students, and members, Ehrke said.

These effects are devastating, he says.

The ever-increasing insurance premiums siphon billions of public education dollars from our schools just for insurance company profit; millions of students lack consistent, quality health care that would set them up for success in school; our bargaining teams spend extraordinary amounts of time and resources negotiating health care that will never be as comprehensive, consistent, or cost-effective than single payer instead of devoting time to that among other issues related to education; and despite the incredible work of our bargaining teams, members are still dealing with denials, deductibles, co-pays, network restrictions, coverage gaps and surprise bills.

Educators for Single-Payer and other advocates use recent research studies and surveys to identify some key reasons why a single-payer health care system benefits public education and the workforce. Theirs:

  • Students with consistent health care have better test scores, attendance, focus, graduation rates, social-emotional well-being, and long-term educational success.
  • Implementing single-payer could save California schools more than $5 billion, cutting district health care costs by half or more.
  • Savings from the single-payer policy will allow school districts to invest in reducing class sizes, better pay, more staff, mental health support, facilities, student resources, and more.
  • Single payer will take health care off the bargaining table, freeing up our bargaining teams to focus on other important education issues.
  • No union-agreed health benefits will 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 all is consistent with an equitable and socially just society. For Educators for Single-Payer, this also makes sense.

Through a single-payer system, every single person in California will have comprehensive health care, with any provider they choose, from cradle to grave – expanded to include dental, vision, long-term care, home, prescriptions, medical supplies, and more – all at a fraction of what the state, our districts, and individuals spend today, Ehrke said.

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

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

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