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Financing a single payer system in Maryland

Financing the Maryland Health Security Act

By Gerald Friedman, Professor of Economics, The University of Massachusetts at Amherst
February, 2012

This policy memo explores the economic implications of enacting the Maryland Health Security Act (MHSA) and establishing the Maryland Health System Trust (MHST) a single-payer system to finance health care in Maryland. The proposed trust would finance virtually all necessary medical care including hospital care, doctor visits, dental care, mental health, prescribed occupational and physical therapy, prescription drugs, medical devices as well as medically necessary nursing home care and home health care. Medical care would be financed through the MHST without co-payments or deductibles.

The MHST will finance medical care with substantial savings compared with the existing multi-payer system of public and private insurers. Some of these savings would be used to extend coverage to the 15 percent of nonelderly adults in Maryland without insurance and to improve coverage for the growing number with inadequate coverage. In addition to improving access to health care, the MHST would reduce economic inequality by replacing the current regressive system of health insurance finance with progressive and proportional taxes. By reducing administrative and other waste, the MHST would increase real disposable income for most Maryland residents while reducing the burden of health care on Maryland businesses.

Financing the Maryland Health Security Act (31 pages):
http://www.md.pnhp.org/docs/Maryland-single-payer-study.pdf

House Bill 1035 - Maryland Health Security Act of 2011:
http://mlis.state.md.us/2011rs/billfile/hb1035.htm

Comment: 

By Don McCanne, MD

Many proposals have been advanced and bills introduced for single payer programs. Perhaps the most frequent question asked is, "How would you pay for it?" The general answer is easy. You simply use progressive tax policies to fund a universal risk pool that pays for all appropriate care for everyone. Most people want specifics. In this report, Professor Gerald Friedman describes a financing proposal for the Maryland Health Security Act of 2011, a single payer model of reform.

As with all other single payer proposals, he reaches the conclusion that the substantial savings of the single payer model could be used to extend coverage to the uninsured and to improve coverage for the growing number with inadequate coverage. This would increase disposable income for most residents and reduce the burden of health care costs on Maryland businesses.

Friedman also provides a graph projecting three scenarios for Maryland health expenditures for the next decade: 1) the existing health care finance system, which we all know is terribly inflationary, 2) growth under the Affordable Care Act, which is much worse (since this is the most expensive model of reform), and 3) growth under single payer, which is dramatically reduced - bringing cost escalation down to tolerable levels - truly "bending the curve."

One important footnote in his report should be mentioned: "We assume that all necessary federal waivers are granted and legislation is enacted to allow the incorporation of existing federal programs into the MHST (Maryland Health System Trust), including Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veteran’s Administration." We might add to that legislation addressing the preemption clause for self-insured, employer-sponsored plans under the federal Employee Retirement and Income Security Act of 1974 (mentioned in the fiscal and policy note for HB 1035).

Activists should continue to support state efforts for single payer reform while simultaneously supporting enabling federal legislation, for the reasons mentioned. The former is not possible without the latter. A far better option would be to enact a national single payer program, but until we can bring sanity to our political process, state single payer reform should be pursued.