The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

California’s Privatized Pandemic Response:
Profits over Lives

May 24, 2021

In March, California gave a major health insurer, Blue Shield of California, a $15-million, no-bid contract to take over the state’s vaccination effort against Covid-19. Public health experts questioned putting an insurance company in charge of the vaccination program, which had already been underway for a couple of months. And sure enough, if anything, switching to Blue Shield added another layer of bureaucracy to the effort and slowed down the rate of vaccinations.

Another private company California officials tapped for the vaccination effort was Salesforce, which created MyTurn, California’s online vaccine scheduling system—with similar results. The system proved inadequate to handle the volume of appointments. By late April, only 27% of vaccinations in the state were booked by MyTurn, which had already cost the state $93 million. Most Californians booked their appointments through local clinics, medical centers and universities anyway.

Governor Gavin Newsom has brought in about 30 private companies as a part of the state’s pandemic response, granting many of them no-bid contracts. Many of these companies have nothing to do with health care. They include Silicon Valley tech giants such as Google, Facebook, and Apple; electric car maker BYD; as well as Amazon and Doordash.

While shoveling multi-million-dollar, no-bid contracts to big private companies, Newsom and the other top officials in California have starved the state’s public health system. After the last recession, for example, they slashed local health budgets by 30 to 40%. Even in the middle of the pandemic last year, Newsom and his fellow Democrats, who control the California legislature, turned down a funding request of 150 million dollars to support California’s local health departments. And once again this year, Newsom has denied a request of $200 million for local public health services, despite a budget surplus of $76 billion.

Public health officials say the funding Newsom denied could help hire nurses and epidemiologists, rebuild outdated data systems, and restore some of the 11 public health laboratories the state lost in the last 20 years—all of which are essential, and missing, in the fight against the current pandemic. But instead, Newsom and his fellow California Democrats want to save that money for the big, enormously profitable tech companies.

This gutting of California’s public health system has proved catastrophic for the people of California in the face of the pandemic, with 3.77 million cases (nearly one out of 10 Californians) and nearly 63,000 deaths.

This is the enormous human price we have to pay for still living under this capitalist system, which puts profit above everything else, including human life.