Senator Eldridge Testifies to Congress about Impacts of Health Reform

For Immediate Release
2/25/09

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As national debate over economic stimulus shifts from policy development to implementation, Congress and President Obama are turning to health reform, and they are looking to the experimental legislation passed in Massachusetts in 2006, designed to provide near-universal coverage to residents. A panel of witnesses from Massachusetts, including State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) testified at a Congressional forum in the Rayburn House Office Building on Wednesday, February 25, urging caution in replicating the Massachusetts plan nationally.

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The forum drew a crowd of over 100, including Congressmen Eric Masa and John Conyers, Jr., and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey.  In addition to Eldridge, the panel included Dr. David Himmelstein of Cambridge Hospital; Arthur MacEwan, a UMass economist; Sandy Eaton, RN, of the Massachusetts Nurses; Peter Knowlton, President of the United Electrical Workers, Northeast Region; and Mary Ford, recent Mayor of Northampton and a municipal expert.

In his testimony, Eldridge praises the Massachusetts law insuring more people, but pointed out some of the serious downsides to the reform law, including unexpectedly high costs to the Commonwealth, with predicted savings not coming through; greater costs to most consumers when adding up premiums, deductibles, and co-pays; out-of-control health care costs for cities and towns; and the lack of support for small businesses.

“When looking at Massachusetts health care reform, we need to remember that our goal isn’t simply to have everyone insured, but to have everyone able to access the health care they need. After all, what good is health insurance if you can’t afford to see a doctor?” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge.

Because of all these shortcomings, Eldridge noted that while he was proud to vote for the Massachusetts health care law, “The reality is that if our goal is universal coverage and universal access to healthcare, the Massachusetts model will not get us there – and it should not be adopted as a model for the nation.”

Eldridge has been a strong advocate for a single-payer health care model, which would ensure that everyone has access to the health care they need.

The other panelists touched on some of the shortfalls of the Massachusetts system, which has attempted to achieve near universal coverage by extending subsidized insurance to some low-income residents, and requiring many residents with income above a certain threshold to purchase their own health insurance or face tax penalties. For example, the skyrocketing costs of the program – upwards of $1.3 billion in FY09 – have led to cuts in the existing health safety net, such as community health centers.

“Pledges to safety net facilities have been reneged upon, while the richest insurance and hospital institutions reap rewards,” commented Sandy Eaton, RN.

Moreover, many of the newly insured previously had access to the state’s ‘Free Care Pool,’ and now actually face higher health care costs after becoming insured.

Arthur MacEwan, PhD testified that “a single person earning about $18,000 would have had free care before the reform but would now have to pay a premium for insurance, and would be subject to significant copayments.”