Green Party Backs A Single-Payer System

The Green Party opposes the federal health law, but for different reasons than you might think. (Mark Wilson: Getty Images)
The Green Party opposes the federal health law, because it doesn't go far enough. (Mark Wilson: Getty Images)

The platform of California’s third largest political party — the Green Party — includes legalizing marijuana, ending the death penalty and offering free, community bicycles. Now, add this to the Party’s list of solemn commitments:

“We’re hoping the individual mandate will be struck down,” says Barry Hermanson, the Green Party’s candidate for California’s 12th Congressional District. “It is extraordinary that now Congress is saying individuals must purchase a product from a private company. There’s no precedent for this.”

For Hermanson, and other Greens, being compelled to buy a product from an industry they find repugnant is a bit like a school requiring kids to hand over their lunch money to the playground bullies.

“I have no trust they have my best interest and the general populace interest in mind,” he said.

For most opponents, the federal health law presents a test of federal power versus individual liberty. But for the Greens, who have 34 local elected officials in California — that’s more than any other state — the law doesn’t go far enough.

The Green Party wants Congress to pass a Medicare-For-All health plan, a tax-funded, federally-administered program like Medicare and Social Security.

“That is in the direction of where we need to go with health care. Medicare-For-All is something that would solve our issue,” says Laura Wells.  She ran for governor as the Green Party candidate in California in 2010. She’s still bitter that Congressional leaders, when crafting the federal health law, refused to allow debate on a Medicare-for-All program.

In 2009, nearly a dozen advocates for a so-called single-payer system were arrested for disrupting committee hearings. They haven’t gotten much attention since then.

But Green Party officials say if the Supreme Court strikes down the federal health law — and the ranks of the uninsured swell beyond 50 million, as most health policy experts predict — their views might finally come into favor.

Chris Lehane is a California democratic political consultant. He says while there is potential if the Court throws out the individual mandate or the federal health law s a whole that health care overhaul could be revisited in a different way, but sees a tough road.  “It’s a hard battle and it will be a very uphill fight,” he says “but you can certainly see the potential if the President’s plan is thrown out, for people to revisit how they approach this.”

Lehane says there are some Democrats who also support a single payer system, but it would take a seismic shift in the nation’s political make-up to advance the idea. “The question really becomes,” he points out, “Can you really begin to convince independent voters that this is really the way to go?”

In the meantime, the best bet for the Green Party and other single payer advocates may rest with the states. Vermont has started to put a single payer system in place.

In California, Democratic lawmakers twice passed bills establishing a single payer system which were later vetoed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Earlier this year, a single payer bill stalled in the California Senate, but its sponsors have vowed, as they do every year, to bring it back again.

As for the Supreme Court, a decision from the justices is expected by the end of June.

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