Election 2010 Health care question on Nov. ballot

By David Pepose
Berkshire Eagle, Oct. 12, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Voters in the 2nd and 4th Districts will test the waters for single-payer health care in a ballot question in November’s elections.

According to Ben Day, executive director of the statewide advocacy group Mass-Care, the non-binding ballot question is meant to allow voters to "instruct their representative whether they should support a single-payer health care system."

"It doesn’t have any impact on the law, but it gives something for representatives to listen to," said Day.

Question 4, which made it into 10 districts across the state in 2008, will be on 14 district ballots in 2010.

This will be the first time any Berkshire districts have had the question on their ballots, which required 200 signatures from registered voters in each district.

Single-payer health care is designed to promote "universal health care" to a state by means of a single, taxpayer-funded source. Governments in Canada, England and Australia all subscribe to single-payer health care systems.

"Almost every country in the developed world, except for the United States, establishes health care for everyone. It’s paid through the tax system, sort of like we pay for firefighters and the police," Day said. "We’re basically the only country in the developed world were people can slip through the cracks."

Likening a single-payer health care system to "expanding Medicare" to all ages, Day said that by
"eliminating the middlemen" of the health insurance industry, the state could eliminate rapidly increasing health costs -- particularly those in legal fees between doctors and insurance companies -- while promoting high success rates with patients in need.

State representative candidates in the 2nd and 4th districts spoke about the measure with largely positive responses.

"I’ve been a leading co-sponsor for that for six years," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, who is running as an incumbent for the 4th Berkshire District. "We have to find affordable, reasonable products if [the state’s health care] mandate is going to continue."

Pignatelli’s competitor, Lee Scott Laugenour, agreed.

"I have lived in several countries where they have single-payer health care. Over there, there’s no such thing as deductibles or co-pays, there’s no such thing as people going bankrupt because they got sick," Laugenour said.

"The Massachusetts reforms that have been passed and the national reforms based on Massachusetts don’t look to be very sustainable. ... The plans are already falling apart," he added. "In countries with this sort of insurance system, people spend far less on health care than we do -- and they get better results."

Second Berkshire District candidate Stefan Racz said if a single-payer system was implemented, it ought to be measured.

"I would do it on a gradual basis," Racz said. "If you do single-payer heath care as an immediate transfer, you’re going to bankrupt the state. We can’t do that."

Pushing for a "more gradual" institution of single-payer health care that would take two to three years, Racz said, and "a lot of small businesses would love single-payer health care because it would be a lot cheaper for them."

Response to the question was not universally positive.

Mike Case, a Republican candidate for the 2nd District, said that while he would need specifics to make a strong decision, "right off the cuff I’d say I don’t like single-payer health care."

"Just the massive costs -- our tax rate would skyrocket with that," Case said. "And it wouldn’t do anything to address the problems of the cheating and the overpricing and the gouging."

Yet 2nd Berkshire District candidate Paul Mark disagreed, saying that the ultimate cost would be far less than the current health care system.

"I think what they’re overlooking is ... we’re paying more in the United States per capita than any of the other developed nations," Mark said.

He said he believes universal health care would ultimately lower costs across the board.

"We’re already paying for this," he said.