This year, the California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA) celebrates its twentieth year educating and advocating on behalf of California seniors. With over a million senior members, and dozens of affiliate organizations from across the State, CARA has become a powerhouse, and a respected voice in Sacramento on issues related to seniors and those with disabilities. Working closely with state legislators, CARA has supported, opposed or sponsored many bills on an array of issues, but the continuing meltdown of our healthcare system has pushed this issue to the top of CARA’s list of priorities.
While the protection and expansion of Social Security and Medicare programs have always been a primary focus of CARA’s work on the federal level, California’s flirtations with a single payer system have led to an all-out effort by CARA.
In 2020, Governor Newsom convened his Healthy California for All Commission for the purpose of examining the multitude of issues and challenges involved in moving to a single-payer system in California. Over the two years of the commission’s existence CARA mobilized members across the state to participate in the meetings and advocate with members of the commission.
CARA members in the North Bay began meeting with Assemblyman Jim Wood, a member of the commission and chair of the Assembly Health Committee. Wood, a dentist from Healdsburg, was clearly a skeptic about single-payer from the beginning. But, as the research presented to the commission kept showing that the current system was fatally flawed and that real, viable solutions were out there, Wood slowly came to change his stance on the issue. During a Zoom meeting with CARA members in 2022, Wood stated that, while he still has deep concerns, it was clear that a single-payer system was the only way out of the mess. But Wood’s “support” for single-payer can be shaky and CARA will continue to engage Wood and other legislators on the issue. It has been encouraging to see Wood permit health care bills to come to his committee rather than allowing the bills to die without a hearing, as has happened in the past.
Last November’s election brought a number of new legislators to Sacramento and CARA will be working to educate those new members and advocate for single-payer efforts. In April, CARA held a statewide Lobby Day, wherein Zoom meetings were held with over 100 of the 120 California senators and assembly members. CARA members pushed legislators on a handful of key bills that were moving forward, most importantly on two bills: AJR4 (Schiavo) and SB770 (Weiner).
SB770 establishes concrete steps, and a definitive timeline, toward creating a guaranteed, equitable healthcare system through a unified public financing system. It would require the California Secretary of State to submit recommendations for elements to be included in a formal waiver application by June 1, 2024. This waiver, which California needs to obtain from the federal government, is the first step in establishing single-payer healthcare. At press time, this bill had passed the California Senate’s health committee and the appropriations committee, and next goes to the full senate for passage. It needs to pass the senate by June 2 in order for it to move to the Assembly for consideration.
AJR4 – Medicare Protection Act of 2023, calls on the Biden Administration to abolish the ACO-REACH program. This is a joint resolution of both legislative houses, declaring that the State of California seeks an end to this program. ACO-REACH was a program started under the Trump administration that allowed various entities, including hedge funds, to administer the healthcare of traditional Medicare recipients. It is a blatant attempt to privatize Medicare.
Unfortunately, the Biden administration, with a couple of minor tweaks and a new name, has left the program in place. With pressure from many organizations, including CARA, the administration has pulled back on the program, cutting off any expansion, but it remains in place. CARA and others continue asking Biden to end the program immediately, which he could do with the stroke of pen through an executive order. Passage of AJR4 would put California on record, calling on Biden to end the ACO-REACH program.
CARA will continue to work on the many bills that affect seniors, including climate change, housing, transportation, hate crimes, in-home support services and, of course, Social Security and Medicare, but establishing a single-payer healthcare system is going to be front and center until it is realized in California. CARA members will continue to fight at all levels, from the national to the local, through lobbying efforts, through informative forums and through direct action such as the March 17 rally at Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s office. Over 700 seniors rode buses from as far away as Humboldt County to McCarthy’s Bakersfield office, demanding that he and Congress keep their hands off Medicare. McCarthy and his staff, who are apparently terrified of older folks, called on police, FBI and the Secret Service to remove the “unruly” demonstrators, refusing to address the silver-haired crowd.
Local chapters of CARA (called CATs – CARA Action Teams) meet monthly in both Marin and Sonoma counties, and CATs across the state are each planning twentieth anniversary events throughout the year.
Sonoma County’s CAT is holding a Birthday Bash on July 19, co-hosted by the Healthcare for All Working Group of Sonoma County, at the Unitarian Church in Santa Rosa. We will be showing the movie “American Hospitals: Healing a Broken System” which looks at how hospitals have changed from focusing on patient care to making profits for shareholders. Following the movie there will be a panel discussion with members of CARA and the healthcare working group. This free event will include door prizes and birthday cake to celebrate CARA’s 20 years, the fiftieth birthday of Medicare and the eighty eightieth birthday of Social Security. Everyone is welcome.
To see the videos of CARA’s forums and the Bakersfield rally, or for more information, visit the website at CaliforniaAlliance.org. For local CARA information contact Bonnie Petty, Sonoma CAT convener, at BonnieLPetty@gmail.com.