Local activists take to courthouse, streets in favor of health care for all
Local advocates took to the downtown streets of Santa Barbara once again Saturday afternoon to urge state legislators Sen. Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara, and Assemblymember Steve Bennett, to push Assembly Bill 1400 — the California Guaranteed Health Care for All — across the finish line.
Several dozens of activists met at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse at 1 p.m., where they handed out signs and marched to Assemblymember Bennett’s office and then Sen. Limón’s office, carrying signs that read, “Health care in the U.S.A. is in the ICU,” “Health care is not warfare” and “Health care for people, not for profit.”
“Health care should not depend on your income,” John Douglas, the organizer of the event, said at the rally. “It is a human right that should attach to every human being on the planet.”
Mr. Douglas invited the two legislators to speak at the event, but they declined, saying in a joint statement: “We will continue following this bill and hope that as it evolves, there is a fiscally sustainable way for California to implement universal coverage, while continuing to meet all its obligations to education and other social safety net programs. Please know that concurrently, as your representatives, we have been supportive of efforts to improve health care access and health care coverage across our state and in the communities of Ventura and Santa Barbara … Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Senate and Assembly Rules Committees prohibit in-person events, however our offices continue to work and meet virtually.”
In response to their declination, Mr. Douglas told the News-Press, “We appreciate support for the concept, but we want something a little more concrete, but that’s OK. We appreciate them addressing us.”
This is one of multiple rallies that’s been coordinated by Mr. Douglas in Santa Barbara, and his message has remained the same over time.
“One of the problems here … is they (lawmakers) kept saying, ‘Well, I want to see how it’s paid for.’ That will be worked out in committee and in the legislative process how it’s paid for,” he told the News-Press, adding that the bill’s current status is that it’s being examined by a panel of experts for, most likely, a feasibility check before it goes back to the health committee.
Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo attended the rally herself, wearing a Planned Parenthood T-shirt. She shared that she is a member of Mayors for Medicare for All, and she hopes to recruit other mayors in Santa Barbara County to join. She, too, spoke to AB 1400’s typical criticism of uncertainty regarding how it will be funded.
“That’s always the challenge when you switch over from this for-profit model,” she told the News-Press, referencing private benefactors and insurance companies. “We’re talking about upending that system, turning that upside down, and all the value goes back into a patient-focused health care system.
“I think it’s an uphill battle, but we chip away, right? Just keep chipping away and chipping away and we’ll get there, I know, in my lifetime, and I just turned 60. I fully believe we’ll get there.”
The mayor said that she believes Health Care for All will help the elderly, children, low-income families, families of color, the homeless population and more, along with supporting neighborhood health clinics and Doctors Without Walls.
“I am wearing my Planned Parenthood shirt because I wanted to draw attention to the groups now that are this network, this safety net, so you can get other health care services,” Mayor Murillo said. “Doctors Without Walls — they give medical attention to the homeless people in the parks. Like, that’s crazy! Shouldn’t people suffering under homelessness be able to go to a free clinic to get their needs taken care of? Maybe that would help them out of homelessness.”
Bill Marks, a long-time local Health Care for All advocate, told the News-Press that he believes the conversation about AB 1400 starts with COVID-19.
“COVID has revealed the fact that we have a very weak public health system in this country,” he said. “Single-payer countries that have strong federal care have done much better. Particularly in Asian countries like South Korea and Taiwan have very, very low fatalities and we have very high (fatalities).
“It’s costing us lives. We need a national health system because we’re going to have more of these pandemics. They’re predicted to happen.”
Taylor Clark, a student at UCSB and member of Santa Barbara’s chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, told the News-Press that his sister is a Type 1 diabetic and his family has been struggling, getting kicked out of Medi-Cal as a result of a change of income during the pandemic.
“I think the pandemic has really shown that it’s not an individual’s responsibility to have to worry about whether or not they can afford their sister’s health care,” he said. “Health is a matter that’s beyond a person’s control, so because of that, it should really be something to take care of as a community, together.”
Ted Bascom, another rally attendee, said Health Care for All is a “no-brainer.”
“The majority of Americans support it, so it’s kind of bull that it hasn’t happened yet,” he told the News-Press.
Local sponsors of the movement include: Democratic Socialists of America, Physicians for a National Health Program, Healthcare for All-California, Progressive Democrats of America and the Green Party of Santa Barbara County.