Advocates push for public health care

Want government-run single-payer system

By Andy Metzger, State House News Service
WWLP News, Channel 22 NBC, Dec. 15, 2011

BOSTON - Five years after redrawing the lines in the national health care debate, Beacon Hill is looking at new reforms, closely studying payment system plans to lower costs and examining a government controlled single-payer model.

“We will end up with a government option at some point. We will end up with a single-payer at some point, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if that point was now, and the place was Massachusetts?” said Sen. Dan Wolf (D-Harwich) at a Thursday afternoon legislative hearing.

Everyone who spoke at the nearly three-hour hearing was in favor of An Act Establishing Medicare for All in Massachusetts, but it has its detractors including the Pioneer Institute, which submitted written testimony arguing it would cause regulatory problems at the federal level and could create a “two-tiered medical system.”

Massachusetts made history in the 2006 health care reform signed by Gov. Mitt Romney, but single-payer advocates say that law fell short and blame it for a new host of problems.

“Ironically the growing intrusion of insurance companies was sort of kicked off by the passage of health care reform, which kind of emboldened them,” said Dr. Carroll Eastman, who said she left an administrative position in health care because the job was increasingly concerned with billing, rather than treating patients.

The cause for a single-payer health care system is not new, but it has some burgeoning support among doctors and nurses who are fed up with the demands of private insurance companies.

Dr. Leo Stollbach, a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said a recent survey showed that 41 percent of members support a single-payer system, up 7 percentage points since 2010. Another 23 percent support a broadly available public health insurance option, Stollbach said.

“At what point are we going to decide that we’re going to stop living in a Charles Dickens novel,” said Marisa DeFranco, a U.S. Senate Democratic candidate, at the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing Committee hearing. “Please do not play defense to Republicans on this.”

Single-payer health care has been a perennial issue on Beacon Hill. Despite some support over the years in the higher echelons of legislative leaders, the idea has never advanced.

The chief focus among legislative leaders and Gov. Deval Patrick is on the governor’s health reform bill and competing plans aimed at controlling escalating costs by altering the payment system to make it focus on the health of patients rather than how many services are provided.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), who sponsored the single-payer legislation, asked the committee to pass a bill that “has elements of a single-payer” system.

Single-payer would be like MediCare for everyone, said supporters, creating a baseline of coverage that people could add to with private plans. Another option proposed by reformers is adding a public option, a government-run system that anyone could sign up for.

During the recent national debate on expanded health care, critics lambasted the idea of a public option, until it was eventually scrapped from the bill signed by President Barack Obama.

But supporters of single-payer said it would free up business by removing the requirement for business owners to provide healthcare to employees.

“The biggest single inhibitor, the biggest ball and chain around small business growth … is the cost and the complexity of health care,” said Wolf, who founded Cape Air about 24 years ago, a company that now employs more than 1,000 people.

On a macro level, the United States spends almost twice as much per capita on health care as Canada, which has a single-payer system, but Canada has a longer life expectancy, said Gerald Friedman, a professor of economics at UMass Amherst.

“We spend more to receive worse health care than virtually every other country,” Friedman said. “It’s just getting worse and worse.”

Meanwhile, Vermont has already reportedly passed a single-payer bill last March, though Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge) quipped that Vermont is also “the only state without a constitutional regulation to balance the budget.”

Moore, the committee co-chairman, gave few other clues about what the committee might be considering in its own legislation.



Health Care Advocates, Providers Rally in Support of Single-Payer Health Care Bill

Local politicians get behind a single-payer health care option

By Jonathan Pickering, Dec. 21, 2011

Touting dramatic reductions in health care costs, improved access to health care for all residents, and a boost to local businesses, State Sen. Jamie Eldridge and State Rep. Jason Lewis testified in support of “An Act Establishing Medicare for All in Massachusetts,” a bill they have filed in the state legislature, at a legislative hearing at the State House last week.

Eldridge and Lewis were joined by dozens of health care advocates, physicians, employers, and employee union leaders who came out in support of the bill.

The bill, heard by the Joint Committee on Health Care Finance, would create a single payer health care system for Massachusetts: a universal public insurance plan covering all medically necessary care. This plan would function for residents under 65 much the way Medicare does for residents 65 and older, but without premiums or co-payments.

A similar plan is currently used successfully by many countries around the world and is in the process of being implemented in Vermont.

“I believe that health care is a basic human right, and we must do everything we can to ensure that every Massachusetts resident has access to quality, affordable care,” Lewis said. “We can alleviate the burden of escalating healthcare costs on families and small businesses by instituting a robust single-payer plan here in the Commonwealth.”

“If Massachusetts is serious about reducing health care costs for families, businesses and state and local governments, we need to stop tinkering at the edges of a broken system and enact a single-payer healthcare system. It’s the only reform that would truly reduce costs in a substantial way, eliminating medical debt and bankruptcies while guaranteeing access to quality, affordable health care as a right for all residents of the Commonwealth,” added Eldridge.

Economist Gerald Friedman, of UMass-Amherst, noted at the hearing that a single-payer system could reduce health care costs by nearly $13 billion a year (or 19%) in Massachusetts.

Even after expanding coverage to all currently uninsured Massachusetts residents, this would leave savings of over 17.6 percent of current expenditures. These dramatic savings come from eliminating much of the administrative costs incurred by insurers and healthcare providers in our current system. This is money paid by employers and employees in premiums that does not go toward paying for care.

Friedman also noted that, when added to significant administrative savings within companies, a single-payer system would enhance the competitiveness of Massachusetts businesses, potentially adding thousands of additional jobs to the state economy.

[Editor's note: The information above was issued in a press statement from the Office of State Rep. Jason Lewis.]