FRAMINGHAM —Four members of a panel at Framingham State University last night gave their pitch for a single-payer health care system in the state, saying it would streamline administration, make care more widely available and potentially save billions of dollars.
But not everyone was swayed, including one audience member who said a switch to single payer would limit access to health care.
In a single-payer system, a version of which was recently passed in Vermont, health care would be paid for by one entity, most likely the government but also potentially a private company. That single payer would be responsible for collecting money for health coverage, like through a payroll tax, and then pay for all state residents’ health care bills.
Framing last night’s presentation is an ongoing effort on Beacon Hill to pass legislation enacting a single-payer system in the state. A chief sponsor of one of those bills, Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, who was also one of the four panel speakers, said about one-fourth of legislators support it.
Eldridge and the other panel members – UMass Amherst economics professor Gerald Friedman, business owner Alex Robbins, and Ben Day, executive director of single-payer advocacy group Mass-Care – said it will take a coordinated grassroots effort to build enough support for a single-payer system even in Massachusetts, which broke new ground for states by making health insurance mandatory for residents in 2006.
The panel said that while the state’s reform and the subsequent passage of federal health care reform a year ago expanded access to health care, it hasn’t made it more affordable.
“Now we’re looking at phase two,” said Rep. Tom Sannicandro, D-Ashland, the moderator of last night’s forum, which he said was intended to “get the discussion out there” on single-payer health care.
Panel members said the single-payer system, already adopted by many developed nations around the world, makes health care more affordable by reducing the amount of administrative work that bogs down America’s existing hybrid public, private system. By having a single payer like the government responsible for all health coverage costs, physicians will be able to focus more on care, and patients won’t have to be stressed by the process of dealing with an insurance company, they said.
Friedman said he believes a switch to single payer could save as much as $8 billion in health care costs in the state, and lower the average per person cost from $7,000 to $6,000.
“The money’s there on the street, waiting for us to pick it up,” he said.
Robbins, who owns William Henry Furniture in Cambridge with his wife, said a single-payer system could spare small companies like his from the annual squeeze of rapidly rising employee health care costs.
“We’re paying twice as much for health care than 10 years ago, but the coverage is half of what it used to be,” he said.
One audience member, Paul Pietro of Southborough, who said he works at Mid-State Insurance, said the single-payer system ultimately won’t do anything to control costs, though, as long as health care providers and doctors continue to drive the current system of delivery of care. Mid-State is an insurance broker from Worcester.
“I don’t see that happening at all,” Pietro said. “If you had single payer, you’d be rationing, and the quality of care is going to come down significantly.”
Some other questions posed to the panel by audience members also insinuated that a move to single care ultimately would only replace premiums with a tax bill from the government.
After the presentation, though, some audience members said they’re ready for a change. Mel Warshaw of Framingham said last night’s show of support for the measure could be a step in that direction.