Let's Start Treating Health Care as a Right

The following testimony was delivered to the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing on Tuesday, June 11, 2019.

Chairwoman Friedman, Chairwoman Benson, and members of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing:

Thank you for holding this hearing today. My name is Jonathan Cohn, and I am the chair of the Issues Committee of Progressive Massachusetts. Progressive Massachusetts is a statewide grassroots advocacy organization devoted to shared prosperity, racial and social justice, good government and strong democracy, and environmental protection and sustainable infrastructure.

Medicare for All is a quintessential part of shared prosperity, and we are proud to support S.683 / H.1194: An Act establishing Medicare for All in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts has a storied role in the history of the fight for universal health care in the US. Our former senator Ted Kennedy was a longtime champion of single payer, and our 2006 health care reform law was a model for the Affordable Care Act nationally.

Although our health care reform law, boosted by the ACA, has helped Massachusetts achieve near-full universality in health insurance coverage, we still see underinsurance, high premiums, high rates of medical debt, and significant disparities—all inevitable outcomes of a reliance on private sector provision. Universal coverage alone doesn’t guarantee affordability, quality, or equity without additional steps.

These problems will continue to exist as long as we treat health care as a commodity instead of a right. The US remains the only advanced industrial country that has not recognized this as a fundamental right, but Massachusetts can lead the way.

A single payer system would save the Commonwealth money through increased efficiency; take the burden of rising health care costs off small businesses, municipalities, and families; eliminate medical debt and medical bankruptcy; and finally guarantee access to quality, affordable health care as a right for all residents of the Commonwealth.

Progressive Massachusetts also opposes H.1163: An Act establishing a special commission to study the implementation of single payer health care in the Commonwealth.

Although commissions can be a valuable tool in guiding policy decisions, the commission outlined in this bill would stack the deck against single payer by design. Past bills in the House, as well as S.674 (An Act to ensure effective health care cost control) in the Senate, would require the Center for Health Information and Analysis and the Health Policy Commission to do the necessary assessment work. The commission in H.1163 would still give space to CHIA and the HPC, but it would also include spots for the insurance lobby. That’s right: the bill would put a representative of Blue Cross Blue Shield and a representative of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans in charge of determining whether or not Massachusetts should move toward a single payer system. The Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association would get a spot, too.

The hospital and insurance industries, of course, have spent large sums against Medicare for All nationally, and they are its biggest opponents here at home. We don’t need to fund a commission to know what the insurance industry and the hospital industry think about Medicare for All. You can google that.

Similarly concerning, H.1163 designates a spot for a “representative of employers,” but no representative for workers. And it includes no space for patients’ rights advocates.

The way we design our health care system has a significant impact on the lives of all residents of the Commonwealth, and putting equity and justice at the center of such a design is vital to ensuring that every person is able to live up to their full potential.

 

Sincerely,

Jonathan Cohn

Chair, Issues Committee

Progressive Massachusetts

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