Healthcare's Harbinger

If you live in Birmingham, Topeka or Des Moines, yesterday’s news out of California might be more relevant than you know.  The announcement that a deal has been reached to extend and improve the delivery of healthcare in California should serve as a sign that it’s not only possible, but also imperative that we come together as a nation to find a solution to the healthcare crisis as soon as possible.

The longer we wait, the worse the situation becomes for the millions who have no health insurance, and for those who have coverage they can barely afford.  That’s why in California, through negotiation, compromise and hard work, they have crafted a plan that will make healthcare more accessible and affordable for millions across the state.  And they’re proposing to do it through many of the same measures that have been proposed by the Democratic candidates for president.

Like all of the plans put forward by the leading Democratic presidential candidates, the deal reached in California is based on a shared responsibility of employers, individuals, and the government.  It would rein in insurance companies, promote affordable coverage for individuals and families of modest means, and improve the security of coverage for all Californians who are currently covered through their employers.  It would also make the state a leader in modernizing healthcare through new technology.

For months, all eyes have been on California as an indicator of whether it’s possible to enact sweeping change on healthcare.  Not only does California have the largest population of any state in the country, with the largest number of uninsured, but all those who are part of the reform debate – from large business to small business to insurance companies and labor – have taken an active role in the conversation.

As they’ve recognized in California, it is possible to control healthcare costs for those with coverage and extend coverage to the uninsured when there’s the political will to get it done.  If a Republican Governor and Democratically controlled legislature can come together with labor and business and insurance companies to find a way to expand healthcare coverage to millions of uninsured Californians, surely we can find a way to solve this crisis at a national level.

Just as we did in California, SEIU members are working now in states across the country, and will continue when we’ve helped to elect a new Congress and a new administration, to help ensure that healthcare reform becomes a reality.  We’ve all come too far, with too many families suffering under the current system, to settle for anything less.  With all eyes trained on California’s progress, what we are really watching is the future.

Anna Burger is Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the largest and fastest growing union in North America, focused on uniting workers in the key service sectors to improve their lives and the services they provide. She is the first chair of America's newest labor federation, Change to Win.