Maine single-payer feasibility study requested

By Stephan Burklin, Feb. 3, 2011

A resolve requiring the Legislature to update a single-payer feasibility study is headed for the Insurance and Financial Services Committee on Wednesday.

The resolve’s sponsor, Rep. Paulette Beaudoin, D-Biddeford, said she introduced LD 57 to assess the viability of single-payer health care in Maine.

The legislation, which is contingent on $60,000 in outside funding, would update a study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research in 2002.

“It’s a study,” Rep. Beaudoin said “to find out how much it would cost for all the people in Maine to have health insurance at a good price.  And I have to find out how much it would cost before we can go any further.  Otherwise, it would be like putting the cart before the horse.”

She said that LD 57 represents her third attempt to commission a study with newer data.

Single-payer denotes a health care funding mechanism in which a single entity acts as administrator.  Under a single-payer system, all hospitals, doctors, and other health care providers bill the administrator for services rendered.

Single-payer health care bills have surfaced in the Legislature, but none have been enacted in both chambers.  In 2001, LD 1277, “An Act to Establish a Single-payor Health Care System” was passed by the House but withered on the Senate Appropriations Table where it died on adjournment at the end of the 120th session.  Two iterations in subsequent sessions failed to receive favorable committee reports.

“It means a lot to me,” Beaudoin said.  “All I want is for everyone to be insured.”

“They found money for the rich,” she said, referring to the Bush-era tax cut extensions for all income brackets signed into law in December, “but they can’t find the money for the people to get insurance.  That’s pretty sad.”

Deb Richter, MD, Chair of Vermont Health Care for All, said that enacting a single-payer health care system in Maine would depend on local political will.

“It’s been proven throughout the industrialized world that a single-payer system is the most cost-effective way to cover every Vermonter, and every American.  We know from numerous studies that you can cover an entire population without wasting it on administrative functions.”

“We could give everyone a comprehensive benefit package for less money than we’re spending now.  This is not ideological – it just makes sense.”

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin is scheduled to submit a single-payer health care bill to the Legislature next Tuesday.

Richter said the conditions for achieving single-payer health care in Vermont have never been better: “Our congressional delegation is completely behind it, we have Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, the majority of doctors are behind it, and the sole insurance company operating in Vermont has said they are behind it.  We have everything we need.”

LD 57 was scheduled to appear before the Joint Standing Committee on Insurance and Financial Services yesterday, but it was postponed due to inclement weather.  The non-partisan Office of Policy and Legal Analysis said a public hearing will likely be held next Wednesday.