Columnist Sara Weinberger: State should move toward universal health care


Published: 5/21/2018 12:58:55 PM

While my mother was dying of pancreatic cancer, I fielded threatening phone calls she received from collection agencies.

My mother did not realize that she was underinsured until she needed catastrophic coverage. That was 1983.

Today, the number of uninsured people has more than doubled since 2003 to 41 million. Beginning in 2019, Americans will no longer be penalized for not having health insurance. The impact on those who opt out of coverage will be devastating. Younger, healthier people are predicted to forgo health insurance, leaving a pool of of older and sicker folks, resulting in health insurance becoming even more unaffordable.

The consequences of our health care system have been disastrous. The United States annually spends $9,237 per person on health care, more than any other country, yet it ranks 12th in life expectancy among the wealthiest industrialized countries. Research demonstrates that those who can afford high-quality health insurance actually live longer than those who can’t. When was the last time you heard somebody expound on the merits of their health insurance plan?

Affordable, accessible, quality health care should be the right of every human being. The European Social Charter recognizes health care as a right that “must be accessible to the entire population.” The United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights emphasizes “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”

The U.S. is one of only four U.N. member nations that have signed but not ratified this treaty. Nobody should have to be one illness away from bankruptcy because they are underinsured or have outrageous deductibles. Nobody should have to choose between paying rent and paying for needed prescriptions, or postpone seeing their doctor because of unaffordable co-pays.

In the face of President Donald Trump’s dismantling of key components of the Affordable Care Act, voters are increasingly backing candidates who support Medicare for All. The movement to make Massachusetts the first state to provide single-payer health care is gaining ground. Western Massachusetts Medicare for All is a grassroots effort to advocate for the passage of a single-payer health insurance bill for all Massachusetts residents.

Massachusetts Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, and Rep. Denise Garlick, D-Needham, are the lead sponsors of “An act establishing improved Medicare for All in Massachusetts.” If passed, the bill would set up a publicly funded health care trust that would cover all medically necessary care. Imagine an insurance plan that covers primary care, preventive services, mental health, dental, rehabilitation, inpatient hospitalization, long-term care, home health services, vision, prescription drugs and more!

The plan would use state and federal health care funds, along with a health payroll tax. Employers would pay a 7.5 percent payroll tax and employees would pay a 2.5 percent tax, but would no longer pay insurance premiums, co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses. For most of us, that means spending less money for better coverage. When we retire or become unemployed, our coverage would continue.

You can still choose your health care provider, but your provider is paid by one health insurance system. Administrative costs would plummet, since health care providers would not be dealing with dozens of insurance companies, each having different rules and regulations.

After attending a presentation on Medicare for All last summer, I was hooked. Last June 30, I convened the first meeting of the Easthampton Hub of Western Mass. Medicare for All in my sun room. These meetings are taking place in conference rooms and living rooms all over Massachusetts, and once a month co-organizers Deborah Levenson and Jon Weissman facilitate a regional meeting in Northampton of Western Mass. Medicare for All.

Massachusetts has been at the forefront of health care reform, and also became the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2004, so why shouldn’t it once again lead the nation as the first state to establish Improved Medicare for All?

At one of our early meetings, I told our Easthampton group that we are in this for the long haul. I have no illusions that opposition from health insurance and pharmaceutical companies will make this a David vs. Goliath battle. With cities, towns and businesses overwhelmed by health care costs and individuals worrying about rising premiums and prescription prices, this is prime time for Massachusetts to lead a health care revolution.

Single-payer activists in Massachusetts have been collecting signatures to get a nonbinding ballot question on the November ballot, giving voters the opportunity to cast their vote in favor of instructing their state representative to vote for a single-payer system of universal health care.

Our Easthampton group was heartened by the enthusiastic responses we received to our signature-gathering efforts. Our legislators need to get the Medicare for All bill out of committee, so that it can be discussed in the public arena, and ultimately brought to a vote to establish Improved Medicare for All, the first step toward making the U.S. a country that provides universal health care for everyone.

Learn more! Join the movement at

Sara Weinberger, of Easthampton, is a professor emerita of social work and writes a monthly column. She can be reached at

Sign up for our free email updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Headlines
Daily Hampshire Gazette Contests & Promotions
Daily Hampshire Gazette Evening Top Reads
Daily Hampshire Gazette Breaking News
Daily Hampshire Gazette Obits
Daily Hampshire Gazette Sports
Daily Hampshire Gazette PM Updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Weekly Top Stories
Valley Advocate Newsletter
Daily Hampshire Gazette Dining & Entertainment


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

23 Service Center Road
Northampton, MA 01060


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy