Single-payer Backers Push For Bill’s Passage Advocates Say The Current System Is Failing Massachusetts Residents, Businesses

BOSTON — More than 700 health care advocates swarmed a hearing by the Joint Committee on Health Care in Gardner Auditorium earlier this month to show support for a comprehensive proposal to provide more secure health insurance coverage to all residents of Massachusetts.
The hearing was on Senate Bill No. 686 — the Massachusetts Health Care Trust — that would create a single state insurance fund to replace the current patchwork of public and private insurance plans.

“Our current system is failing us on all three measures of an effective health care system — assuring access, quality, and control of costs,” said Peggy O’Malley, a leader of the Mass. Nurses Assoc. who chairs MASS-CARE, the Massachusetts Campaign for Single Payer Health Care. “In just four years, annual health care expenditures in Massachusetts have risen from $36 billion to $48 billion: an increase of more than 8{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} a year.”

Other speakers echoed those sentiments.

“The Legislature needs to act before this crisis leads to a medical meltdown,” said state Sen. Steven Tollman (D-Brighton), a lead sponsor for the Health Care Trust legislation. “The number of uninsured is rising, hospitals are closing, emergency rooms are overflowing. Massachusetts can lead the way with a sensible plan that provides secure, quality care for everybody, and prevents us from going broke.”

Said Phil Mamber, president of the Mass. Senior Action Council, “A recent state report showed that 39{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of every health care dollar goes to administrative costs. Low-income seniors are losing their insurance coverage when they need it most. And Medicare now only pays half a senior’s health care costs.

Everyone needs to carry extra insurance, and the cost of that is rising by double digits each year.”

“It is often said that a single-payer system is a good idea, but politically unrealistic,” said Dr. Marcia Angell, senior lecturer in Social Medicine at Harvard medical School. “That is a self-fulfilling prophecy, often propagated by those with a vested interest in the current system. The notion that we can somehow both increase access and contain costs by incremental reforms is what is truly unrrealistic.

“A single-payer system is not just the best alternative for providing universal care while containing costs,” she continued. “It’s the only one.”

Dr. Patricia Downs, a member of the Mass. Medical Society’s Task Force on Single Payer, testified that, “consultants we hired found that universal health care (even with no patient cost—sharing), financed by a single-payer health plan would cost less than the present multi-payer system that doesn’t provide universal comprehensive care.”

“Much of the increased spending for care would go to expand the level of services provided to those who are currently considered ‘insured,’ but face substantial gaps in their coverage,” she continued. “Global budgeting under single-payer also allows planning and cost containment not possible under the current system.”

Joining Tolman in support of the legislation were state Reps. Alice Wolf, Paul Demakis, Frank Hynes, and John Scibak; and state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst. Other speakers during the five-hour hearing included Boston City Councilor Michael Ross; Dr. Jennifer Child-Roshak of the Mass. Academy of Family Physicians; Dr. Alan Sager, of the Boston University School of Public Health; Dr. John Goodson, of the Ad-Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care; Peter Knowlton of the United Electrical Workers; and Carol Knox, of the United Auto Workers.