My Correspondence With State Senator Tom Harman

1. SB 840:  the Single-Payer Bill That Refuses to Die

(Letter to the Orange Coast Voice, 4/21/07)

As our healthcare crisis inexorably metastasizes until nobody can ignore it any longer, phony "reforms" have been popping up like lesions, all of them cruel hoaxes, some of them laughable. Arnold's celebrated "plan" is properly characterized as Private Insurers' Pork, with ten pages of band-aids added on, but at least it allows the Governor to play a caring maverick reformer on TV and in the national press. Newport Beach philosopher Allan Beek likens it to politicians sitting down with auto manufacturers to deal with a transportation crisis by forcing every Californian to buy a car, and creating a government program to steer scarce tax dollars to poor Californians who can't afford one. Pure genius!

But SB 840, Senator Kuehl's single-payer bill, the only true reform of the bunch, refuses to die, and just comes back stronger each year. Let me get you up to speed just in case you haven't been following the issue: Americans spend far more than any other nation on healthcare---over $7000 per year per person now-and yet we are #37 in quality of healthcare, below all other industrialized nations. 18,000 Americans die each year from lack of medical care; and half of all bankruptcies are due to medical debt---and mostly that's folks who were insured when they got sick. There are many problems contributing to this crisis, but by far the biggest is the unnecessary, parasitic private health insurance industry, which pulls in untold billions by charging us higher premiums every year while covering as little of our medical necessities as they can legally get away with (they refer to that as "medical losses.")

And that's why SB 840 just keeps not dying but coming back stronger than ever---it is the only reform on the table in this state that will actually cover all of us, comprehensively, while saving us $8 billion a year. It does this mainly by eliminating the private, for-profit health insurance industry, which we need like a fish needs a bike, and replacing it with a single-payer system like every other civilized nation has. (It saves additional money in some other ways---for example, enabling the government to negotiate down drug prices by purchasing in bulk, and a renewed commitment to preventive care.)

SB 840 won't die but will become law because, just like with the Iraq war, the people are way ahead of the politicans, and the Republican politicians are dragged along last of all, kicking and screaming. To pass the bill with funding (and to break Arnold's veto if he does veto it again) we need at least two Republican senators and six Republican assemblymen to break ranks, and break their silly pledge to never raise taxes. That is the wall we are hammering at now.

The state senator for most of us OC Voice readers---that is, those of us in Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa, and nearby---is Tom Harman, a genial Republican who has been reasonable on environmental and gay rights issues. We're beginning a full-court press on Senator Harman to get him to change his mind and support the bill; once one Republican jumps ship and does the right thing, others will follow. (And Arnold himself has finally been meeting, discreetly, with our hero Senator Kuehl---after years of refusing to.)

Senator Harman needs to understand that, sure, this bill involves taxes, but almost all of us will be spending far less than we are now on premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and the "hidden tax" Arnold correctly mentions where the rest of us cover all the uninsured in many unnoticed ways. The good senator needs to be reminded that SB 840 will save lots of money for the businesses and constituents in his district, and save lives on the Orange Coast, and that more and more of us know it.

Senator Harman's local mailing address is 950 South Coast Dr., Ste. 240, Costa Mesa CA 92626; his phone numbers are (916) 651-4035 in Sacramento and (714) 957-4555 in Costa Mesa. You know what to do, gentle reader. We're also going to set up a meeting between him and a posse of local SB 840 supporters who happen to be Republicans (yes, we do have that many.)

Finally, if you find this issue as exciting and compelling as we do, please join us for a strategy meeting at the Huntington Beach Central Library, Room B, Monday May 7, at 7PM.

Thank you,
Vern Nelson, Huntington Beach
Healthcare For All California (coming soon to a City Council meeting near you!)
(714) 235-VERN,


My estimation of Senator Harman turned out to be naive and outdated.


2. "Moore's 'Mockumentary' is Misleading" by Tom Harman

(printed in the Huntington Beach Independent, June 20, 2007)

"Documentary" movie producer Michael Moore descended upon the Capitol last week to promote his new film, "SiCKO," a cinematic indictment of America’s health-care system.

Throughout the day, Moore met with a long list of legislators to advocate for universal healthcare. Moore even found the time to participate at a press conference with Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and later testified at a Senate informational briefing on health care reform chaired by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica).

At the well-attended briefing, Moore conveniently discussed his new movie by showcasing "tragedies" of our current healthcare system. Moore demonstrated his wholehearted support for universal health care proposals currently pending in the Legislature; measures that would strip away personal choice, while imposing additional taxes upon small businesses to fund a socialized healthcare scheme for all California residents, regardless of citizenship.

Moore is nothing more than a sensationalist who makes money on twisting half-truths and producing factually inaccurate "mockumentaries," all at the expense of the victims of isolated tragedies. It is amazing that so many legislators would give support and encouragement to this individual. It seems to me that the Senate informational briefing was nothing more than a soapbox — provided at state expense — so that Moore could promote his new film.

According to a press release distributed by Senator Kuehl’s office, Moore testified before the informational briefing "to discuss the relevance of the film for the California Legislature." By strongly voicing his support for Kuehl’s proposed universal healthcare plan, Moore not only boosts his own film, but also helps further Kuehl’s legislative agenda.

We all agree that California desperately needs a health care system that is less expensive; increases accountability, access, and coverage; and reduces the burdensome mandates that unnecessarily drive up the cost of health care. However, providing socialized medicine to all, regardless of citizenship, is not the answer.

A better alternative is the plan my Senate Republican colleagues and I have proposed. It is called the Cal CARE plan, and it helps remedy our failing health care system while empowering individuals to make choices for themselves. It helps Californians take personal responsibility for their health care and provides economic incentives to allow an individual to have the same benefits that an employer provides to its employees.

One of the key components of Cal CARE is allowing the establishment of Health Savings Accounts. Currently, California is one of only six states that have yet to conform to federal income tax law regarding HSAs. In order to accomplish this goal, I have authored Senate Bill 199, which provides a tax credit against those taxes paid by an individual or small- to medium-sized business when a contribution is made into an HSA.

California does not need some universal healthcare plan like the one being promoted by Moore. Californians deserve better.

3. My Response to THAT

(printed June 27 in the Huntington Beach Independent as
"SOUNDING OFF:  SiCKO Commentary Needs Reality Check" by Vern Nelson)

So this is our state senator---the kind of man who will accuse his opponent Michael Moore of "half-truths" and "factual inaccuracies" without being able to provide a single example. Well I won't be like that---space (and the editors) permitting, I will detail most of the falsehoods and distortions Senator Harman squeezed into his little diatribe against healthcare reform ("Moore's 'mockumentary' is misleading," Independent, 6/21/07)

If he had actually seen the film, I doubt he would use ironic quotes around "tragedies" to describe the deaths and bankruptcies due to insurance company behavior which Moore documents. And surely it's an abuse of language to refer to 18,000 American deaths a year due to denial of service, and two million bankruptcies a year due to medical bills, as "isolated tragedies." Harman further accuses Moore of making his movie "at the expense of the victims" who had eagerly volunteered their stories to him-well, what about those victims who were finally, reluctantly offered treatment once they THREATENED their insurers that they were going to be in this film?

Harman twice refers to SB 840 and single-payer as "socialized" medicine. Harman knows better and is lying, because we have been over this with him repeatedly, but then this entire column is just a lazy rehash of rightwing talking points. Under SB 840, healthcare providers---doctors, hospitals, drug manufacturers---will remain free capitalist agents subject to market discipline. It is only the function of insurance that we are proposing to replace with an accountable, "socialized" agency, because corporations, whose main responsibility is to make a profit, have proven themselves spectacularly unsuited to the essential task of insuring Americans' health. We think nothing of having a socialized fire department, police department, and military---well, insuring our health is equally important to our national security as those services.

Another focus-group-tested lie from the insurance industry which Senator Harman parrots is that the healthcare reforms on the table will "strip away personal choice." Like all the greatest lies, this is the exact opposite of the truth. Right now it is the insurance companies that tell us what doctors and hospitals we can and can't go to, what procedures they will or won't cover. SB 840---more than all the other alternatives---will give us much more free choice than we have now. The only choice we'll be missing is one that most of us don't want: which one of thousands of insurance plans to be ripped off by.

Continuing with the right-wing buzzwords which drip predictably from Harman's pen, we get "accountability" as a feature which any reform should include. That sounds nice, but what does he mean by accountability in the context of healthcare? He means that if you're poor you probably deserve your poverty, and that if you're unhealthy you'd better damn well be able to pay for your own treatment. I don't think most Americans agree with that.

In the interests of time and space I'll have to leave some of the low-lying fruit here for others to pick (for example, the supposed financial burden of single-payer on small businesses, and "burdensome mandates" being the cause of high healthcare costs.) But I do want to point out something that probably escaped most of you, if you don't keep up with these folks' propaganda, in which case it probably didn't have the effect Harman intended. You'll notice that he uses the term "universal healthcare" four times, in sentences and paragraphs that seem to be otherwise lacking punch. Well, the decision has been made in corporate circles to use "universal healthcare" as a sort of expletive. I'm not sure exactly how effective a tactic that will be, given that most Americans, and most Californians, tell pollsters that they do want universal healthcare (the only question being how best to achieve it.) Tom Harman now inhabits such an insular and selfish world among the Sacramento Republicans that he assumes all his readers will hear "universal" as a bad thing. So you're forgiven, readers, if you didn't realize that each time he used that phrase you were supposed to cringe with disgust and horror…especially when he follows it with "regardless of citizenship."

Okay, illegal immigration, his final trump card; may as well grab that toro by the horns. None of us condones illegal immigration or the hiring of cheap undocumented labor, but public health policy should not be a tool for enforcing laws that are the province of the INS and other federal agencies. There are very good reasons that everybody residing and working in this state would be covered by SB 840 or any of the other serious healthcare reforms-preventive care would control outbreaks and epidemics, and also relieve the pressure on emergency rooms, where the uninsured go when they become seriously ill. As long as corporations continue to use cheap immigrant labor to pick and process our food, it's in our best interest to keep these people healthy. But as Election Day 2008 gets closer, you will hear Senator Harman talking tougher and tougher about Mexicans: he does NOT want to be primaried from the right, and get called a Mexican-loving "RINO."

So Harman's solution to the crisis is the laughable SB 236, aka "Cal CARE," which does not address a single real problem any more than it has a chance of passing; it exists solely for anti-reform politicians like Harman to pretend that they TRIED to do something about the crisis. Its main feature is tax breaks for folks who can afford to stash away their extra cash in "Health Savings Accounts" while still paying extortion to an approved insurance company---that is, more tax breaks for the wealthy! No wonder this is also George Bush's one and only idea on healthcare. Well, birds of a feather, eh Tom.

Finally it should be pointed out that Senator Harman has received $249,955 in contributions from insurance, pharmaceutical, and other health-related special interests, and they're certainly getting their money's worth between his votes and columns like this. Go and see "SiCKO" however you feel about Moore's previous statements and works, think about your own experience with health insurance, and ask yourself who is telling the truth, Michael Moore or Senator Harman? And next year when the Senator is up for re-election, let's look for a candidate who will vote in our interest, not the interests of his corporate backers.

Vern P. Nelson, Huntington Beach

4. Harman's Letter to the Independent, 7-5-07

Last week, Mr. Vern Nelson responded ("Sicko commentary needs reality check," June 28) to my commentary on Michael Moore's recent trip to the state Capitol.

While Moore is a master at twisting and altering the facts, Nelson does not state the facts at all.

I welcome Nelson's thoughts but believe it is only fair that he unveil his true identity, for Nelson is the chairman of the Orange County chapter of Health Care for All California, an organization that lobbies in support of universal healthcare.

Some of the figures Nelson cites in his letter are incorrect. For instance, he suggested there are 2 million medically related bankruptcies a year in the United States. Actually, according to the Physicians for National Health Program, there were 797,630 medical bankruptcies last year. He also claims that there were an estimated 18,000 deaths in the country last year due to a denial of service. Those deaths however, were not due to a denial of service but rather a lack of service for the uninsured (Care Without Coverage: Too Little Too Late by the Institute of Medicine).

Nelson charges that government-run health care systems do not "strip away personal choice." Stated another way, Nelson argues patients would still get to choose their doctor with universal health care. Under the systems hyped in Moore's film however, such as those used in the countries of Canada, France and Cuba, only the rich get to choose.

When Fidel Castro was gravely ill earlier this year, he didn't check into the local government run hospital in Havana. No, Castro's choice was to have a Spanish surgeon and all of his equipment flown on a chartered jet to Cuba. What does that say about free healthcare in Cuba?

Over and over again, the facts show that people are at risk due to lack of service. What Nelson and his organization are advocating only requires health-care coverage and prescribes to whom payments are made. They do not address affordability or access to medical care. Without addressing those key elements, the universal health-care proposal advocated by Nelson is doomed to failure.

State Senator Tom Harman

5. My Letter Back To Harman, 7-7-07

DRAT!!! Senator Harman has "unveiled' my "true identity" as an activist for (gasp) Universal Healthcare! Seriously, I don't know what point he's trying to make. I make a modest living for my three sons and myself as a musician, and spend most of my spare time in a VOLUNTEER capacity fighting for healthcare reform. I can boast of having helped the OC chapter of Healthcare For All California grow from zero to 700 in the last two years, and I figured that between my city council appearances and my letters to newspapers everyone in this town knows what I do. Unlike Harman who's taken a quarter million dollars from companies who benefit from the current madness, I haven't received a red cent for all my efforts. But I do take pride in provoking the good Senator into finally doing a little research!

And it's a beautiful development that he finally seems to want a dialogue with his constituents on the burning issue of healthcare, which Americans consistently rate as their top domestic concern.

For months now we've been trying to get Senator Harman to sponsor, or at least participate in, a TOWN-HALL MEETING featuring an honest debate on this issue with all sides presented, but until now he has insisted on only having private, invitation-only events with insurance lobbyists and other Republican legislators. Harman claims to want "affordability and access", which is the same thing we single-payer advocates are striving for, so it only stands to reason that we should be able to have a productive discussion over how to get there. And as this affects all of us, we should all have a say in it, no?

So, Senator, town-hall meeting and debate, ASAP! You say where and when. The clock is ticking though, as every day up to 5 or 6 Californians die from (let me phrase this precisely) "lack of service for the uninsured and underinsured."

Vern P Nelson
Healthcare For All California, OC chapter, and Huntington Beach resident
(714) 235-VERN


(The Independent did not print the above letter in their 7/12 issue.
Instead, they printed the following irrelevant, deceptive column from Harman.)


6. "Canary Health Plan Isn't Doing Well" by Tom Harman , 7/12/07

California is often at the forefront when it comes to major public policy changes. On the issue of universal health care coverage, however, Massachusetts was the first to jump in the pool.

Governor Mitt Romney's approval of the first such bill in the nation provides a convenient "canary" for us to observe in the health-care reform coal mine. At a time when the California Legislature and Gov. Schwarzenegger are actively pushing their own universal coverage schemes, we would do well to check in and see if that canary is still alive and breathing.

So far, the prognosis isn't good.

Only 15 months after its passage, the Massachusetts health-care plan is facing serious financial difficulties. Simply stated, it is not doing as planned. The worst part of the bill required businesses with at least 11 employees to provide health coverage, or else pay an annual "fair share" tax of $295 per employee. This has turned out to be a huge burden on small businesses.

What's interesting is the board that oversees the new Massachusetts health-care purchasing pool created a significant loop-hole through the regulatory process. The loop-hole allows for a waiver from the initial individual mandate and reduces the monthly premiums on subsidized coverage, thus increasing the program's budgeted costs to taxpayers by millions.

The board is also facing pressure to reduce individual out-of-pocket expenses, such as deductibles and co-payments, despite the fact that these are long-accepted strategies to reduce monthly health insurance premium costs. The board is actually taking steps to qualify tens of thousands of additional low-income persons for free or subsidized coverage, jeopardizing the system's original financing scheme.

Another grim omen for the Massachusetts plan is its inability to attract young and healthy people into the already-too-small risk pool, thereby severely reducing the chances of lowering per capita premium costs.

As of April 1, about 52,500 individuals had signed up for fully-subsidized, free coverage. Enrollments have lagged for the partially-subsidized coverage, and most of those who have joined are older and less healthy than those signing up for the free coverage.

California's leaders had better take notice of Massachusetts' failure to live up to its pie-in-the-sky promises. If they don't, the taxpayers of California will be faced with hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes.

The Massachusetts experience illustrates the unfortunate, but inevitable fact that health care and its financing become politicized once the government gets involved.

The ink from Mitt Romney's pen was scarcely dry before the bureaucrats entrusted with managing Massachusetts' system were coaxed into expanding benefits and eligibility for taxpayer-subsidized programs, while reducing cost sharing for individuals and limiting market-based efforts to contain costs.

Instead of following the Massachusetts plan, we should focus our efforts on improving access to the quality care that already exists in California's health-care marketplace.

We should be wary of following the canary down the universal health-care coal mine shaft, because if we do, the pretty little canary will be dead on arrival.

7. My July 14 Response, co-signed by 162 other constituents of Harman

Senator Harman, We Want a Town-Hall Meeting on Healthcare!

It's encouraging that Senator Harman is finally taking an interest in healthcare lately, and has even been responding to some of our arguments with him in these pages. For months now we've been trying to get him to agree to participate in a town-hall meeting with a full and honest debate on this vital issue, which Americans consistently rate as their top domestic concern; but so far he has restricted himself to private, invitation-only affairs with insurance lobbyists and other Republican politicians. We would like to take this opportunity the Independent is graciously giving us, to renew our call for a town-hall meeting; this letter has been co-signed

The Senator's brief July 5 response ("Proposals don't address affordability") to my June 28 defense of single-payer bill SB 840 ("SiCKO commentary needs reality check") consisted only of a few minor quibbles, none of them with much merit. It was notable that he took issue with none of my major points, leading me to believe he agrees that, among other things:

In the latest Independent he changes the subject with an admirable red herring: Mitt Romney's mess in Massachusetts. ("Canary health-care plan isn't doing well," July 12) His intention is to use the utterly predictable and predicted problems with that fine state's mishmash of a plan, to discredit the whole idea of reform and universal healthcare. But the Massachusetts plan is absolutely nothing like our single-payer bill; it much more closely resembles Governor Schwarzenegger's doomed proposal, in that it keeps the for-profit insurers in the loop, forces all individuals to buy junk insurance from them, and then strives to address all the resulting problems with countless band-aids.

Confusion is understandable, as we have four healthcare proposals on the table here in California. Let's start with the least serious one, the one that Senators Harman, Ackerman, and their Republican colleagues favor, SB 236 or "CalCARE." It addresses absolutely no real problems and also has no chance of passing, existing solely so that anti-reform politicians can pretend that they TRIED to do something about the healthcare crisis. Its major component is tax breaks for those wealthy enough to stash away their extra cash in "Health Savings Accounts" (also a favorite idea of President Bush.)

Up on the second rung of the seriousness ladder is Governor Schwarzenegger's jumble of a plan, which nobody has yet bothered to codify into legislation. Justly reviled by Republicans and Democrats alike, this "plan" features a mandate for all residents to buy policies from private insurance companies-and no wonder, for these companies wrote the plan! These policies are bound to be what we call "junk insurance"-that is, high premiums, high deductibles and high co-pays, causing people to continue to forego needed care. Also it would be necessary to create huge new government bureaucracies both to enforce the mandate, and to steer scarce tax dollars to help those who can't afford their expensive junk policies. You can see the Governor's plan would create as many problems as the Massachusetts plan has, but at least it gets him on TV and on the cover of national newsweeklies, as a caring maverick reformer!

Also keeping the insurance profiteers in the mix is AB 8, Don Perata's and Fabian Núñez' employer mandate which is well on its way to passage. This bill is arguably a small step forward, as it extends coverage to poor children (a relatively inexpensive concession.) But it continues to waste billions of dollars on the private insurance companies, leaves millions of Californians uninsured, and is going to be a substantial burden on small businesses who will all have to pay the same 7.5% of wages as Wal-mart and Boeing.

And finally we come to the future of our healthcare, the sort of system all civilized nations have, SINGLE-PAYER, as embodied in California's SB 840. We need the private insurance companies like a fish needs a bike, and by eliminating them, insuring all of us through a single accountable agency, and bargaining down drug prices, Californians will save 8 billion dollars a year, as well as thousands of lives and countless bankruptcies. But to pass this essential bill we need a 2/3 vote in each house, which means we have to either convince politicians like Senator Harman to vote in the interests of their constituents instead of their fat-cat contributors, or else replace them on Election Day with someone who will.

Is Senator Harman afraid of an honest public debate? Perhaps not; after all he did respond to my last article, however incompletely. So we re-iterate our demand for a town-hall meeting as soon as possible: This affects all of us, and every day Californians are dying and going bankrupt just so HMO executives like UnitedHealth Group's Bill McGuire can make 1.6 billion dollars in 5 years. We're ready when you are, Senator Harman, just say when!

Vern Nelson, chairman, Healthcare For All California, OC chapter.
This letter was signed by 162 other constituents of the 35th Senate District (in three days.)

(I'll finish this page soon -- Vern 7/28 -- there's a couple more chapters, gotta run)