Santa Monica

Councilmember Kevin McKeown


Healthcare reform is a hot national issue right now, and with good cause.  Our current healthcare system is grievously broken.  We need real reform, though, not just promises from the same corporate backers of insurance-based “coverage” who have gotten us into this crisis.

Not only would universal single-payer healthcare, with everyone covered, no one left out, be better for the community, it would save us money.

I asked our City Manager how much a single-payer system might save Santa Monica, per year, at a time when rising healthcare benefit costs are gobbling city revenues.  When the city’s Director of Finance came back with the answer, it turned out I’d asked the Six Million Dollar question!

Think what we could do instead with six million dollars for schools, police, fire, social services, and parks.

(Don’t forget that any TV set graphic on my website links to a video!)

Here’s the question I asked.  Here’s the answer.  Below is what I wrote about it for our local papers.  And don’t miss the update at the end:  the California Democratic Party is now on board!


By Santa Monica Councilmember Kevin McKeown

Responding to a budget preparation request I made recently, Santa Monica’s Director of Finance has calculated that universal single-payer healthcare would save the City six million dollars a year in employee health-benefit costs.

Disclosure:  I'm a long-time advocate of universal single-payer healthcare, who led the City Council to endorse both the California and federal single-payer bills currently under consideration.  Then, two weeks ago, struggling with a Santa Monica budget short on revenues and long on rising costs, I asked Finance Director Carol Swindell to calculate possible savings to city government if single-payer were enacted in California.

Swindell’s blockbuster response, delivered to the Council last Friday, quantifies the stunning potential savings to the public of a proposed health plan that removes insurance middlemen and administrative costs.  The single-payer system “would incur $21.8 million in annual expenditures,” wrote Swindell.  “Projected medical costs for FY 2008-09 for the same salary level were $27.8 million, which indicates an estimated savings of $6.0 million over current medical, dental, and vision costs.”

Santa Monica’s calculations used information from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, and were based on the provisions of California Senate Bill 810 (Leno), which proposes a statewide universal single-payer healthcare system similar to the federal bill, HR 676 (Conyers).  Swindell points out that the switch from private to single-payer healthcare “would likely have no impact on City employees, given the City’s existing coverage.” 

For many other local workers, though, including those lacking employer-paid health benefits, universal single-payer would provide more complete coverage.  Santa Monica, as reported in our city’s recently adopted “Creative Capital” policy plan, has an uncommonly high number of artists, writers, and other creative workers, who tend to freelance or work part time, often leaving them underinsured for healthcare, if not completely unprotected.

I have to admit I was not surprised at the magnitude of the six million dollar savings.  All along, we’ve known that for-profit insurance inevitably adds massive administrative overhead to our current healthcare system.  Those six million dollars could be going to schools, police, fire, social services, or parks, instead of to corporate profits.

The importance of extending full healthcare to everyone, under a universal single-payer health plan, is even more significant than the cost savings.  In this recession, people losing jobs are also losing medical care, for themselves and their families.  We already had almost 50 million uninsured in the United States, and as recent concerns over swine flu illustrate, those without health care increase the epidemic risks for all of us.

payer advocates will be “at the table” during hearings held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which Waxman chairs.  Conyers is outraged. 

“Henry Waxman, my brilliant friend, open up your door,” Conyers demanded at a Public Citizen dinner in Washington last week.  Conyers understands the politics of the situation, but “it’s another thing to say we don’t want to hear the most popular bill.”  Conyers went on to explain, “I’ve got 79 co-sponsors. Seventy-nine men and women saying let’s get this thing on.  We’ve got 300 to 400 unions.  We’ve had three polls.  The American people have spoken.”

With Santa Monica already on the record endorsing both the state and national universal single-payer healthcare bills, and armed with the documentation of potential six million dollar savings for our city alone, I have to agree.  Healthcare reform is overdue, and now is the time to restructure the system to make it truly work, not settle for inadequate half-measures.

I've asked Representative Waxman’s office to schedule a face-to-face meeting for me with the Congressman and local doctors from the L.A. chapter of the California Physicians Alliance.  Meanwhile, universal single-payer advocates from Santa Monica organized a visible and vocal presence at a UCLA Health Care Reform Forum this week.

Local doctors, wearing iconic white coats, planned to ask “Why is single-payer not at the table?,” according to Santa Monica doctor Matt Hendrickson.  “The UCLA forum has no speakers representing single payer,” he points out.

Despite widespread public support for universal single-payer healthcare, the political influence of insurance companies and the healthcare industry continues to suppress discussion at the highest policy-making levels.  “How are you going to have a transformational health care program, that has been vaunted and touted for so long, if you take the most popular remedy for it off the table to begin the negotiations?,” asked Conyers at that Washington dinner.   “You won’t get it.”

Like many others, I remain committed to the full course of reforming healthcare with true universal single-payer, not just promises from insurance executives to reduce costs, or the wishy-washy so-called “public option” that leaves intact the private insurance system with all its wasteful overhead.  If you want to cure an infection, you prescribe the full course of penicillin – you don’t risk doing more harm than good with just half a dose.

Looking hopefully at the six million dollars in Santa Monica city healthcare costs that could be saved under single-payer, I know this is our moment to create a new healthcare system that not only means better care for everyone, but frees funding for other worthy local purposes.  We need to make sure we’re heard in Washington:  We want health care that works, and we want our money to go to community needs, not corporate profits.

The banner of universal single-payer healthcare, everyone in, no one left out, is widely carried.  I've worked with the California Nurses Association, Progressive Democrats of America, Physicians for a National Health Program, and other advocates.  Last summer, at the Democratic National Convention, I met with U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-MI), principal author of HR 676, the United States National Health Insurance Act.

Santa Monica’s own Congressman Henry Waxman was at one time a co-author of HR 676, but it is now uncertain whether single-

Councilmember McKeown wIth Rep. Conyers in Denver

UPDATE:  In November 2009, the California Democratic Party adopted the following resolution:

Whereas, the declared position (resolution SAC09.29) of the California

Democratic Party in the current national debate on healthcare reform is

support for universal single-payer healthcare, with everyone in and no one

left out;

And, whereas the national debate on healthcare reform may be but a precursor

to a more productive debate within California on the passage of universal

single-payer healthcare for our state, if the national government fails to

adopt single-payer, with the relative cost to taxpayers being a likely point

of public concern;

And, whereas DSCC member and California Democratic Party Irish-American

Caucus vice-chair Kevin McKeown has, as an elected Councilmember in the City

of Santa Monica, successfully directed that city’s Finance Department to

execute a cost analysis and calculate the savings to that city’s government

should universal single-payer be adopted, those savings being a significant

and illustrative six million dollars per year for just that one city;

Therefore, be it resolved that the California Democratic Party, as a matter

of principle, calls upon Democratic elected officials to support the CDP

position on universal single-payer healthcare by, within their own

jurisdictions, pursuing a cost analysis of the potential savings to local,

regional, and state government under universal single-payer;

And, be it further resolved that the California Democratic Party calls upon

local Democratic organizations to assist in communicating this request to

local electeds, and in publicizing the results of the savings studies,

thereby supporting the CDP position on universal single-payer healthcare as

well as supporting Democratic electeds who adhere to the Party position and

vote in favor of single-payer.

Written and submitted by Leah Herzberg, 41st AD Committee, LACDP; edited by

Kevin McKeown, Councilmember of Santa Monica, Ricco Ross, AD Committee,


Sponsored by Valley Democrats United, Progressive Democrats Los Angeles

(PDLA), Progressive Democrats Santa Monica Mountains (PDSMM), Julie Lopez

Dad, Chair 41st AD Committee, LACDP, and others

I’m honored by, and grateful for, your support in electing me six times!