Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle.
Let me pose two riddles I will answer at the end of this column. Which health care reform program for Massachusetts won a non-binding referendum last November? Which health care reform legislation is co-sponsored by all five Berkshire County legislators?
We are now at the time of year when businesses, towns and families are faced with sticker shock as they pay their health insurance premiums for 2011. Town employees find they will have to pay a larger percentage of their health insurance as municipalities deal with escalating costs and limited budgets. There is a push for towns to join the GIC (the Group Insurance Commission) to attempt to reduce town expenses by limiting the choice of private insurance policies and increasing out-of pocket costs for employees.
Businesses are also being forced to require increased cost sharing from their employees. Individuals have to buy insurance plans that cover less even as they cost more, for high deductible plans with larger co-payments for both medical services and prescription drugs.
But there is a solution to these runaway costs: a single-payer health insurance program. In Massachusetts, single-payer legislation, the “Medicare for All Massachusetts Bill,” has been filed for 2011. This legislation guarantees first class, comprehensive coverage for every Massachusetts resident, while reducing costs to the state, towns, businesses and individuals.
Under this legislation, residents of Massachusetts would have a health insurance card to present whenever they received medical care, dental care or prescription drugs. They would pay nothing out-of-pocket, and receive no medical bills.
Businesses would pay a stable payroll tax of 7.5-8 percent instead of rising premiums. Towns would pay the same payroll tax for their employees. Middle and low-income employees would pay a 2.5 percent payroll tax, and take home 7.3-15 percent more income than with their current health insurance program.
In addition to saving money for businesses, towns and families, a single-payer health care program would save money for the state, money needed for other services like education, police and fire protection. Insurance companies, with their high profits and administrative costs, would be supplanted by a “single-payer” that would administer the health care money at a much lower cost than the many private insurance companies. By eliminating the insurance middlemen who provide no health care services, Massachusetts would save $9.7 billion per year. Administrative costs would also decrease for doctors and hospitals with a single-payer program.
The covered benefits would include:
* Prevention, diagnosis and treatment of medical injury and illness, both inpatient and outpatient, laboratory and radiology services, mental health care, dental care, acupuncture, physical therapy, and chiropractic and podiatric services.
* Rehabilitation treatment
* Prenatal and maternity services.
* Home health care.
* Long term care.
* Hospice care.
* Medical transportation.
* Vision and hearing treatment.
* Medical equipment.
* Prescription drugs.
There would be no deductibles, co-payments or co-insurance. Patients would have free choice of health care providers. And an added benefit would be the long term care insurance, especially important for baby boomers now coming of an age where they may need that benefit.
The current Massachusetts health care bill has not been able to control costs, nor do private health insurance policies provide adequate coverage for health care. People want health care reform that works.
So here are the answers to the riddles.
Fourteen districts in Massachusetts voted in favor of a non-binding referendum for a single payer health program in the November election.
All five state legislators in the Berkshires have signed on to co-sponsor the Medicare for All Massachusetts Bill. We praise their leadership, vision, commitment and caring: Senator Benjamin Downing and Representatives Gail Cariddi, Paul Mark, “Smitty” Pignatelli and Chris Speranzo. Our Berkshire delegation is leading the way: no other county in Massachusetts has the support of all their legislators for single-payer health care.
It is time for everyone who supports the Medicare for All Massachusetts Bill to become even more active for the establishment of a state health insurance program that works for everyone, at a cost that is affordable for the state, towns, businesses and families.
Call or write our governor. In his heart, he may be a secret single-payer supporter.
Susanne L. King, M.D. is a Lenox-based practitioner.