BOSTON – State lawmakers heard arguments Tuesday in favor of a single-payer health insurance system for Massachusetts, with proponents testifying that more needs to be done despite the advances brought on by state and federal law.
“I acknowledge that in Massachusetts we have a great health care system, but it is not a system that works for everyone,” Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, said at a Joint Committee on Health Care Financing hearing. “Almost every developed country provides it to their citizens as a right … and we need to take a look at addressing it as a right here in Massachusetts.”
Mr. Eldridge is a sponsor for S.579, a bill that would move health care insurance from private companies to a single-payer system, in which the state insures all citizens. A comparable bill H.1026 has been filed by Rep. Tom Sannicandro.
“We continue to see increasing health care costs year after year, and it is becoming a greater burden,” Mr. Eldridge said. “It is time for Massachusetts to continue to be an innovator and leader for reform”
Although Massachusetts boasts the nation’s highest rate of health insurance coverage, a February report by the University of Massachusetts Medical School found about 200,000 Bay State residents did not have coverage in 2015.
While the federal 2010 Affordable Care Act lowered the uninsured rate on a national level, Massachusetts has not seen a measurable decrease in the last several years, according to the report, commissioned by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation.
The report found that 75 percent of respondents to the survey said they were not covered because the cost was too high.
Ture Turnbull, executive director of Mass-Care, a campaign for single-payer health care, said health care costs in Massachusetts are higher than the rest of the nation – and costs in the nation are some of the highest in the world.
Health care costs in Massachusetts jumped by 4.8 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to a September 2015 report by the nonpartisan Center for Health Information and Analysis. Total spending on health care in Massachusetts during 2014 was $54 billion — which averages out to about $8,000 per resident.
Wednesday marks the six-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that everyone in the country has health insurance coverage. Mr. Eldridge said it is even more pressing for Massachusetts to pass a law regarding health care coverage given that it is an election year.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she would keep the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, but has proposed some changes to make it more affordable. Her opponent, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, wants to replace Obamacare with a single-payer system, similar to the type found in Canada and Western Europe.
Republican candidate Donald J. Trump has vowed to repeal and replace Obamacare if he is elected.
Rand Wilson, a communication and policy director for Service Employees International Union Local 888, said the support that Mr. Trump has in Massachusetts, as indicated by his near 50 percent victory during Super Tuesday, is “cause for alarm” in the state in terms of health care.
“Those votes represent the condemnation in government in regulating society, including health care,” he said. “This is an interesting political moment. If we take time to act on this bill and we wait any longer the political base that we have for reform may continue to shrink.”
Eric Linzer, the senior vice president of public affairs and operations at the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, told the State House News Service Tuesday that establishing a single-payer system would not translate into cost savings.
“We’re on our way to getting to 100 percent coverage,” Linzer told the State House News Service. “I think where the challenge really lies is getting health care costs under control, and I think when you look at what the drivers are — increases in the prices that providers charge, significant increases in prescription drug costs that really have been staggering for state budgets as well as for employers and consumers — a government-run single-payer system doesn’t address that.”
Read the story on Lowell Sun’s website.