Wake-up Call for Single Payer

An Open Letter to Governor Baker and the Massachusetts Legislature

In the midst of an overwhelming pandemic, we see with crystal clarity that the health of each of us depends on the health of everyone. At the same time, we face the terrifying truth that our country lacks the basic infrastructure and preparedness to deal with this crisis. Massachusetts residents, health care providers, and public officials are scrambling to limit, test for, and treat the disease.  Our best efforts in Massachusetts, however, are impeded not only by the lack of national leadership, but also by a highly fragmented, privatized, and inadequate approach to health care financing and planning.

COVID-19 is a wake-up call for the country and the Commonwealth to move toward a Single Payer system as quickly as possible.  It is imperative that the Single Payer principles being pursued during this crisis are implemented as fully as possible and continue after the crisis abates.  

UNIVERSAL COVERAGE FREE AT THE POINT OF SERVICE:  In order to control the spread of COVID-19 infection and limit mortality, every person must be able to access testing and treatment for the disease with no gaps in coverage or cost at the point of service.  A publicly-funded Single Payer system would guarantee comprehensive coverage for every resident with no financial barriers to care.  

HEALTH CARE REGARDLESS OF EMPLOYMENT:  As the economy slows, many workers and their families will lose their employer-sponsored health insurance.  They will face difficulty paying monthly premiums and out of pocket charges along with other bills, and accumulate mounting debt.  Single Payer would eliminate medical debt and provide lifetime coverage regardless of employment.  

PLANNING AND COORDINATION:  The response to COVID-19 has been slow and dangerously inadequate in the U.S.  Single Payer would provide the infrastructure and expertise to plan effectively for health emergencies, coordinate resources and communications, and readily access broad data-sets for decision-making.

FUNDING FOR PUBLIC HEALTH AND MEDICAL CARE: Public health in the U.S. is woefully under-funded and funding for medical care is driven by competing private interests, not public need or equity.  A Single Payer system would have the incentive to balance funding priorities and the clout to negotiate prices with big Pharma and other suppliers to bring down costs and prevent price gouging.

We will be a different country after the COVID-19 pandemic.  COVID-19 is likely only the first of many public health challenges we will face as our changing climate causes unimaginable disruption in the biosphere.  When the current crisis has passed, we must move immediately toward establishing a permanent Single Payer system. While even a few weeks ago it may have seemed “pie in the sky” to many, today Single Payer is demonstrably the most practical and necessary system if we are to maintain health care stability in an uncertain future.  Until that happens at the national level, Massachusetts must lead among the states.

Western Mass. Medicare for All therefore calls upon Governor Baker, Senate President Spilka, House Speaker De Leo, and the Massachusetts Legislature to guarantee universal coverage for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccination with no financial or other barriers to care including income, employment, citizenship status, or any other factors. To commence as soon as the current crisis abates, we further call for an immediate plan to transition to a Single Payer system in the Commonwealth based on the principles set forth in “An Act Establishing Medicare for All in Massachusetts” (S684, H1194).

Note to our blog readers from Massachusetts: If you or your organization would like to sign on to this statement, please contact us at info@wmMedicareforall.org.

Health Care is a Human Right

Written by Stephanie Strand

More than 70 years ago, on December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which proclaims, in addition to many other issues that reflect on human dignity:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of [their self] and of [their] family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond [their] control.”   

Everyonehas the right to medical care, whatever the individual’s circumstances. Not “everyone with a job” or “everyone who can afford the co-pay” or “everyone in Congress.”  Everyone, period.

The United States has a special relationship with the Declaration as Eleanor Roosevelt was Chair of the Human Rights Commission at the time and she was the driving force behind the document’s composition and passage. Ironically, however, the U.S. did not actually ratify the Declaration until 1992.  

Today 12.4% percent of American adults have no health insurance, and tens of thousands of Americans die each year  because they are uninsured. Millions more cannot afford adequate care because they are underinsured. Soaring drug costs are part of the problem. A recent study published in the journal Circulationfound that one in eight heart disease patients skips medication doses because of cost, and diabetic Americans are dying because skyrocketing drug prices force them to choose between insulin or food and shelter.

Medical debt is crippling American working families. Two-thirds of all personal bankruptcy filings cite illness and medical bills as contributing factors, and more Americans are being arrested and jailed because of outstanding hospital bills.

We are in the throes of a human rights crisis that’s been building for decades, and is only getting more urgent.

The problem isn’t that we don’t spend money on health care. In fact, we spend more per capita than any other industrialized country, by far.  But so much goes to bloated administrative overhead, inflated prices for drugs and medical devices, profiteering, and waste that is unrelated to providing actual health care that even as we pay more we have worse outcomes than other wealthy nations on several measures, including infant mortality and maternal health

In short, we witness human rights violations, millions of times over, through our current healthcare system.

What can we do? We can fight for Single Payer in Massachusetts.  Single Payer will replace our current fragmented, disorganized, and expensive patchwork system of multiple private insurers and public agencies with a streamlined Health Care Trust that will cover preventive services and all medically necessary care for every resident. And bonus, it will cost far less than our current system. 

If we’re willing to do the work, we can lead the nation toward health care justice.

Think about it. That Declaration belongs to every person. Everyone has an inborn entitlement to health care, simply for showing up. Are we willing to claim and defend this human right for all?

What’s new?

We have’t posted to this blog in a while and that’s mostly because we’ve been busy working on a lot of other stuff! Western Mass. Medicare for All is a volunteer operation and we can’t always keep up with it all.

We’ve been hosting trainings about the Mass. M4A bill, presenting educational programs, and tabling at public events in Berkshire, Hampshire and Hampden counties. WMM4A folks have also been participating in meetings with the M4A Legislative Caucus and helping to form a Health Care Committee of the new Area Labor Federation. Several folks recently attended the national Single Payer Conference in Portland, Oregon.

Meanwhile, our Easthampton hub has been working hard on a Medicare for All resolution in their city. Please come out to the Council meetings in Easthampton on Nov. 6 and Nov. 20 to support the Easthampton Single Payer Resolution! (See details on our Events page. )

You may also notice something new here on our website – our new WMM4A logo! We worked with a local designer to create a visual image that expresses who we are. The mountains symbolize Western Mass. as well as the strength and solidity of our movement. The overlapping green and green-blue colors symbolize unity, growth and health. Some of you may have also noticed that the shape of the mountains echo the “M” and “A” in Medicare for All.

We’ll try to write more blog posts soon. But meanwhile, we’d love to hear from YOU. Do you have a health care story that you would like to share with others? Send us your ideas: info@wmMedicareforall.org.



Big Wins in Holyoke, South Hadley!

Western Mass. Medicare for All has been working at the municipal level this spring and is glad to report two recent victories.  The Holyoke City Council voted overwhelmingly on May 7thto pass a resolution in support of the state bill, “An Act to Establish Medicare for All in Massachusetts.”  This success was largely the result of great organizing by WMM4A’s Holyoke hub, hosted by the Pioneer Valley chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. 

Rally at Holyoke City Hall before Council vote on Medicare for All resolution

A non-binding ballot question in support of Single Payer healthcare passed in Holyoke last November with a 67% “yes” vote.  Hub members had canvassed door to door for several months and the question passed in every ward: not only in the most liberal wards, but also in more conservative ones.  

Continue reading “Big Wins in Holyoke, South Hadley!”

Health Insurance is a Battlefield

Western Mass. Medicare for All presented testimony at a recent “Listening Session” for local legislators on March 15th in Amherst. One of our speakers was Jon Weissman, Co-convener of WMM4A, past coordinator of Western Mass. Jobs with Justice, and a long-time labor and community activist. Here is his testimony:

The costs of health insurance, prescription drugs, and hospital charges keep rising, and these costs are increasingly shifted to workers, creating an unsustainable situation for workers.

The urgency for reform is clear every day at the bargaining table, where unions seek to preserve the benefits workers have earned, but these high costs help to sustain a climate of concessionary bargaining, pushing wages down, diverting potential wage and pension improvements to the pockets of the insurance companies and their high-salaried executives, causing bitter strikes and lockouts, triggering attacks on public sector workers and retirees, and shifting more and more of the costs onto the backs of workers.  Health insurance is a battlefield.

Continue reading “Health Insurance is a Battlefield”

M4A Cosponsors

More than 100 advocates from across the state, including a strong Western Mass. contingent (pictured here), gathered at the Statehouse for Lobby Day on Jan. 23rd.

After a spirited rally, delegations formed to talk with their legislators about cosponsoring “An Act Establishing Medicare for All in Mass.”   
Many thanks to those who attended Lobby Day, and to all of you who called and emailed your state reps and senators.  

The final tally for cosponsors on HD2974, the House Medicare for All bill is 62. This is a 40% increase since last session – and Western Mass. more than doubled its cosponsors from 7 to 15!  The total number of legislators who have signed on at this point to either the Senate or House bills is 73. Reps and Senators can continue to sign on to the Senate bill (SD2062) until it comes out of committee.

As we continue to build the grassroots movement for Medicare for All in Massachusetts, more legislators are getting on-board.  They can see that this matters to the people in their districts.  We are also starting to get some pushback.  A new columnist in the Hampshire Gazette recently chose to challenge Medicare for All in his first opinion piece.  Responses by Prof. Gerald Friedman and Deborah Levenson, WMM4A Co-Convener, were published a few days later.  Standing up to the opposition is part of this struggle … and here we go!