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Note: The following article is a press release from the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

October 9, 2003

“Mass Health Care Trust” is best way to control costs,
improve quality, provide secure health care for all

Reform leaders call on Health Care Committee to favorably report bill out of committee,
allow vote in Senate and House

Boston, MA – More than 700 health care reform advocates swarmed a hearing by the Joint Committee on Health Care in Gardner Auditorium today 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 Massachusetts Nurses Association who chairs MASS-CARE. “In just four years, annual health care expenditures in Massachusetts have risen from $36 billion to $48 billion: an increase of over 8 percent a year.”

“The legislature needs to act before this crisis leads to a medical meltdown,” said State Senator Steven Tolman (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 all from going broke.”

“A recent state report showed that 39 percent of every health care dollar goes to administrative costs,” testified Phil Mamber, President of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council. “Low income seniors are losing their insurance coverage when they need it the most. And Medicare now only pays half of 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, 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 unrealistic. A single-payer system is not just the best alternative for providing universal care while containing costs. It’s the only one.” Dr. Angell is the former Editor-in-Chief, New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Patricia Downs, a member of the Massachusetts 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 which 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,” Dr. Downs added. “Global budgeting under single payer also allows planning and cost containment not possible under the current system.”

“It’s an ironic tragedy that one out of every eight health care workers lacks insurance for the health care services they provide,” said Celia Wcislo, President of SEIU Local 2020, the new statewide health care workers union. “And workers who are covered already pay more than they can afford for their health care. Now almost all employers — faced with skyrocketing costs — are trying to raise workers’ premiums even higher. But shifting costs to employees doesn’t solve the key problem that plagues our current system: the lack of meaningful cost controls.”

“The current patchwork insurance system prevents me from providing the quality care my patients deserve,” said Michael Kaplan, a family physician in practice in Lee, Massachusetts and a member of the MA Academy of Family Physicians, who submitted testimony. “I look forward to the day when a single monthly charge – instead of thousands of charges to hundreds of insurance companies – takes care of the payments. Also with a single insurance payer, decisions about the health needs of my patients will be made in the consult room where they belong.”

While at the statehouse, hundreds of citizens visited their elected officials, urging them to become sponsors of the bill.

Joining Sen. Tolman in support of the legislation were Representatives Alice Wolf, Paul Demakis, Frank Hynes and John Scibak; and Senator Stanley Rosenberg. Other speakers during the nearly 5-hour hearing included Boston City Councilor Michael Ross; Dr. Jennifer Child-Roshak, Mass Academy of Family Physicians; Dr. Alan Sager, BU School of Public Health; Dr. John Goodson, Ad-Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care; Peter Knowlton, United Electrical Workers; and Carol Knox, United Auto Workers.

Written Testimony was submitted by Rep. James McGovern; Katie Murphy, RN and Selectwoman, Town of Framingham; Timothy Murray, Mayor of Worcester; John O’Neill, Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services; Dr. Sarah Kemble Community Health Center of Franklin County; social worker Richard Sherman; and Jill Wiley, Associate Director, Massachusetts Council of Churches.

To give the legislature additional encouragement, the Boston City Council passed a resolution in support of Senate 686 on October 1. Similarly, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO unanimously passed a resolution at its convention on October 2, calling for the federal government to pass legislation guaranteeing access to health care for every person in the United States.

The Massachusetts Campaign for Single Payer Health Care (MASS-CARE), is a coalition of over 80 organizations working for a universal, single payer health care plan in Massachusetts.


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