By Ann Eldridge Malone and Kathleen Wolf
Yes, there is another Massachusetts Constitutional Amendment. One that is truly in the spirit of making equal and upholding an essential human right for all. An amendment which will, and I quote the exact language, “…ensure that no Massachusetts resident lacks access to comprehensive, affordable and equitably financed health insurance coverage for all medically necessary preventive, acute, and chronic health care and mental health care services, prescription drugs and devices.”
We all can be very excited about the real possibility of obtaining health care coverage for everyone in Massachusetts. Every one of us knows that universal health care is a tremendous need; it is well-documented that those without health insurance live sicker lives and die prematurely (Institute of Medicine Report on the Consequnces of Uninsurance, Jan. 2004). Massachusetts has almost 600,000 residents who are uninsured–about one in every 10 people. They are our neighbors, relatives, and co-workers, most of whom work or are members of working families.
In the U.S. we spend more per person on health care than any other industrialized country in the world yet we get much less for it. If other nations can cover all their residents, get better health outcomes and spend less, so can we.
In Massachusetts, over 16 billion dollars of our annual health care spending goes to administrative costs instead of to patient care! We also spend more than $1 billion annually for avoidable hospitalizations of uninsured residents. This money comes from each of us who pays taxes. It is time to speak out to make comprehensive health care a permanent right for all and to demand better stewardship of our health care dollars. This amendment is complimentary to the Mass-Care coalition effort to pass the Massachusetts Health Care Trust bill which is one policy option to enact a statewide universal coverage program.
This health care constitutional amendment started out as a grass roots initiative. A petition drive was conducted last fall and doctors, nurses, students, patients and their families, union members, retirees and many others gathered the signatures of over 71,000 registered voters in 343 cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth in support of this initiative. Now it requires only one quarter of the legislators sitting in a Joint Session (50 votes total) to approve it both this year and next in order to pass on to the voters. Then the proposed amendment will be on the statewide ballet in November 2006 to be voted upon by the citizens of Massachusetts.
In early March, the Senate unanimously voted to put this amendment (House No. 4444) on the agenda for the current constitutional convention. It is now scheduled for a legislative hearing on Tuesday, April 6th at 10 am in Gardner Auditorium at the Massachusetts State House. This hearing is open to the public and should be a fascinating event with information and testimony from patient and community advocates, health care providers, attorneys, religious leaders,
citizens, business and labor representatives and economists, among others. The legislative hearing is being convened by the Joint Committees on Health Care, Insurance, Ways and Means and the Committees on Medicaid and Federal Financial Assistance.
You are needed to come and bear witness to this momentous occasion, and if you like, to share your testimony in support of this historic effort to make comprehensive, affordable, and equitably financed health insurance a permanent right for all in the Commonwealth.
Sometimes, people will ask, can we afford to have health insurance coverage for everyone? Our answer is, how can we afford not to?
More information about the Health Care Constitutional Amendment can be found at www.healthcareformass.org or by calling (617) 868-1280.