When California Senate Health Committee Chair Ed Hernandez’s foot dragging earlier this year nearly killed the single payer bill, SB 810, outright, I wondered whether health insurance industry lobbyists had gotten to him. Hernandez, a Democrat, eventually voted to move SB 810 out of committee, but only after a massive amount of arm-twisting by universal healthcare advocates and a public dressing down by a Democratic Party activist at the state convention. However, weeks after the vote, SB 810 was still placed on ice, to be re-introduced in January.
Hernandez then complained about another popular bill, AB 52, that would have allowed state regulators to pre-approve insurance industry rate increases. He voted that one out of committee too, but said he wouldn’t support a final version unless changes were made. Under industry pressure, AB 52 soon died in the State Senate in late August. Well, turns out there may have been a reason for all of Hernandez’s hemming and hawing. According to an investigation by Think Progress, he’s been on the health lobbyists’ payroll:
State Sen. Ed Hernandez (D), the chair of the health committee, voted for AB 52 but told the press he could not support the bill in its current form. Hernandez’s income is boosted by about $69,000 a year in payments from Kaiser Health Plans, the state’s largest insurer (and one of AB 52′s most prominent opponents) in rent at an office building owned by Hernandez. The unusual arrangement might present a serious conflict of interest, but Hernandez’s spokesman told ThinkProgress that the rent payments began shortly before Hernandez entered the legislature, and that Kaiser maintains a community outreach center in the senator’s building. (emphasis is the author’s)
Hernandez’s spokesman can try to spin this stinky arrangement until he gets dizzy. It doesn’t matter that the rent payments were made before Hernandez became a state senator. What’s problematic is that Hernandez continued this financial relationship with Kaiser while still sitting on the state Senate Health Committee. At the very least, Hernandez should have recused himself from the vote on AB 52. It makes one wonder if there are any other little arrangements the senator has got going with his health lobbyist buddies? The stench of corruption here is just too great to ignore. It’s no wonder that we, the people of California, and the United States can’t get the kind of legislation passed that will truly address the dire problems we face, which includes replacing a morally bankrupt and deadly healthcare system with one that provides high-quality and affordable care to all. Our democracy has been hijacked by unethical business interests funneling money to our so-called “representatives” by means that may be legal in this country, but elsewhere, such “arrangements” would be called by another name.