Local advocacy group surveys candidates on single-payer issue

Staff Writer 
Published: 8/17/2018 12:24:53 AM

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly excluded answers for candidates in the 1st Hampshire District for state Representative. Both candidates, Diana Szynal and Lindsay Sabadosa, filled out the survey.

NORTHAMPTON — While many candidates in the region running for state office agree that soaring costs of health care must be remedied, they identify convincing the state Legislature as a major challenge for health insurance reform.

With the Sept. 4 primary elections around the corner, the newly-formed Western Mass. Medicare for All (WMM4A), a regional group of single-payer insurance advocates based in Northampton, surveyed candidates on their position in regards to statewide single-payer health care.

“We are most encouraged by the unanimously positive response to forming a single-payer Legislative caucus on Beacon Hill,” Deborah Levenson, of WMM4A, said.

All candidates in the Pioneer Valley were invited to participate in the survey and 17 candidates running in state Representative and Senate races in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties responded to the survey.

“Such a caucus might serve as a forum to educate other legislators about how a single-payer system works, discuss and debate policy concerns, and build support to move the legislation out of committee,” Levenson said.

Levenson described single-payer as a system where all health services would be paid for through one public health care trust fund, covering all residents without regard to their current circumstances, and assuring a full range of benefits including behavioral health, dental, vision, and long-term care.

Senate race 

In the state Senate race for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester district, Jo Comerford, Steve Connor and Ryan O’Donnell shared their views on the issue. 

Citing a study by University of Massachusetts Amherst economics professor Gerald Friedman, Comerford, former campaign director for MoveOn.org, makes the argument that single-payer insurance would provide universal coverage while reducing healthcare costs.

Friedman’s study concludes that the state could save up to $22 billion by lowering insurance administration costs, drug prices, and hospital rates.

Connor, services director for Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services, wrote in the survey that he has witnessed the “manipulation” of the VA Healthcare system by underfunding programs and placing unrealistic mandates on the system.

He stated that Massachusetts can be a leader on a single-payer system, adding that legislation must be bipartisan, written with care, and hold the principle of healthcare as a right. He also wants to address “significant disparities” in coverage and access based on income, racial, and educational variables, as well as rural versus urban geography.

O’Donnell, who is president of the Northampton City Council, identified the influence of the health insurance industry in the state as a major obstacle that single-payer legislation would have to overcome. He also referenced his record of voting as city councilor in favor of a resolution asking the state to establish Medicare for All.

The final candidate, Chelsea Kline — the only candidate on the ballot — has said she supports single-payer health care, but did not fill out the survey.

1st Hampshire Representative

Both candidates, Diana Szynal and Lindsay Sabadosa, have identified the need for single-payer health insurance as a key issue in their campaigns. 

Szynal, district director for the late state Rep. Peter Kocot, wrote she would align herself with legislators who are already advocates for single-payer and her relationships with staff on the Committee on Health Care Finance to get more information on the feasibility of Medicare for all. 

She mentioned that apprehension among citizens about givings up their current plans are a challenge, but through informing constituents she hopes to move forward to a healthcare system that is “successful, reliable, and fair.” 

Sabadosa, a women’s rights advocate and financial translator, stated in the survey that “single-payer is the only way forward in Massachusetts” and it is her “number one priority.” The state is spending 42 percent of its budget on healthcare costs, she wrote, and proposed legislation for Medicare for all would reduce how much individuals spend on healthcare by 18 percent. 

She wrote that leadership in the Statehouse, the insurance industry, and “big Pharma” are among the biggest challenges, but working with a single-payer caucus will bring advocates together to make it possible. 

2nd Hampshire Representative

Marie McCourt, an assistant program director for the Collaborative for Educational Services, was the only candidate from the 2nd Hampshire District race for state Representative to respond to the survey.

She highlighted the advantages of single-payer, such as bringing health care costs down and increasing coverage, but acknowledged “we do need to look at the costs and logistics of moving to a single-payer system.”

If elected, she wants to make sure that the process is not rushed, and recognizes that insurance lobbies and healthcare corporations will use their influence to convince people that single-payer insurance is not viable.

Candidate John Hine, a senior business analyst at Baystate Health, includes on his website that he would support efforts to determine what a single-payer system would look like and how the state could transition to such a system.

Candidate Dan Carey, assistant Northwest district attorney and Easthampton city councilor, said at a Gazette-sponsored forum in July that he supports Medicare for All.

3rd Hampshire Representative

Both candidates in the 3rd Hampshire District race for state Representative — executive director of the Amherst  Survival Center, Mindy Domb, and chairman of the Amherst-Pelham Regional S   chool Committee, Eric Nakajima — expressed the need to engage with legislators and advocates to transition the state to single-payer insurance.

Domb wrote she would work in concert with state Rep. Denise Garlick and state Senator James Eldridge, two legislators that have been “leaders” on this issue.

She also stated that “myths about single-payer can thwart success.” Those myths can cause fear around losing coverage and denying needed care for people, and tackling those myths are part of the challenge in the transition.

Nakajima answered that, if elected, he would organize a coalition of single-payer advocates while simultaneously engaging skeptical legislators “with clear facts.”

He also mentioned he would want to work with professor Friedman of UMass to work towards passing Medicare for All legislation.

According to WMM4A, the state is expected to introduce a bill to enact Medicare for All in Massachusetts.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com




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