Friday, January 24, 2014

True Single-Payer Healthcare System Being Considered in New York Assembly

From Truthout –

New York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who represents the Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen sections of Manhattan (D-75th District), has introduced a bill to implement a true single-payer healthcare system in New York State. Although the legislation made it out of the healthcare committee of the Assembly last year, it then was basically stonewalled from going much further.

Gottfried, chair of the health committee, told BuzzFlash at Truthout, the bill was re-introduced at the beginning of this session on January 8th of 2014.

What makes Gottfried’s bill distinct is that it would — if implemented in its ideal configuration — be a true single-payer healthcare system for all New Yorkers (except Veterans, who receive care through a government-administered system of providers employed by the Veterans Administration.)

This differs from what is called the Vermont “single-payer” system, which is a laudable one coming down the pike. But the Vermont healthcare insurance program would more accurately be called a comprehensive coverage system than a true single-payer.

Gottfried’s bill (2078A) would create the New York Health Trust Fund and all New Yorkers — in theory — (except veterans) would eventually receive care through the fund. They would carry a “New York Health” card for all their medical needs. Although still far from being enacted, what would make Gottfried’s bill a near seamless single-payer, if passed and implemented in its ideal form, is that the federal government would (and that is something, alas, unlikely to see for the time being given current DC private insurance control of politicians) pay Medicare and other federal programs directly into the state health insurance program. (Medicaid is already paid to states to administer the program within each state — but Gottfried’s bill would make Medicaid party of the pool of money funding “New York Health.”) There are still some gaps and exceptions that would be closed at a later time were the bill ever to be passed and the feds were to provide waivers, but it puts the first stage of a state single-payer on the map of consideration even if it is a political long shot.

Continue reading…

Monday, January 13, 2014

Maine Advocates Push for Single-Payer Care System

From the AP –

A government-run health care system in Maine would provide universal coverage to residents, cut down on administrative costs and free businesses from the complexities of providing insurance for their employees, supporters of a single-payer model said Thursday.

Advocates of a single-payer system have long been trying to implement the model in Maine with little success, but said they are hopeful that the steps Vermont officials have recently made to spearhead the effort there can help make it a reality in Maine.

“Our current health care system is complicated, is inefficient, unfair and pretty much broken,” said Julie Pease, president of Maine AllCare, the group behind the measure, which she said will “return our system to one where … our medical profession treats our patients based on their health care needs not on their ability to pay or what kind of insurance they have.”

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Charlie Priest of Brunswick, aims to create a single-payer health care system in Maine by 2017, as officials are trying to do in Vermont. Beginning in 2017, Vermont will offer a set package of coverage benefits to every resident under the program.

But the idea in Maine faces fierce opposition from insurance companies and questions remain about how the state could afford such an endeavor.

Dan Bernier, a lobbyist for the Maine Insurance Agents Association, said that government should focus its limited resources on the poor, elderly and disabled instead of those who can afford coverage.

“It is not the role of government to provide someone like myself, a lawyer and lobbyist, free health insurance,” he told the Insurance and Financial Services Committee on Thursday.

Supporters argue it would ultimately save the state as much as $1 billion down the line by eliminating unnecessary paperwork and administrative costs. The program would be paid for through taxes like people already do for Medicare and Medicaid, they said.

But the state first has to make a commitment to universal health care before every single detail can be worked out, said Joe Lendvai, a Brooklin resident who advocates on behalf of the bill with Maine AllCare.

“Unless we conceptually agree that we need to cover everyone, that every Maine resident deserves access to health care without any barriers, we are not going to succeed,” he said.

But any proposal to raise taxes would likely be rejected by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has vowed not to do so while he’s in office and vetoed the state budget last year because it included tax increases.

Democratic Sen. Geoff Gratwick of Bangor acknowledged that it will be tough to pass the measure in this political and economic environment, when budgets are especially tight. But he said that Maine lawmakers have long-understood the serious problems with the current health care system and want a change.

“This is going to happen whether or not we get it now, two years from now, 10 years from now,” he said. “It’s inevitable because our current system is broken,” he said.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Obamacare We Deserve

Today marks the beginning of health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act�s new insurance exchanges, for which two million Americans have signed up. Now that the individual mandate is officially here, let me begin with an admission: Obamacare is awful.

That is the dirty little secret many liberals have avoided saying out loud for fear of aiding the president�s enemies, at a time when the ideal of universal health care needed all the support it could get. Unfortunately, this meant that instead of blaming companies like Novartis, which charges leukemia patients $90,000 annually for the drug Gleevec, or health insurance chief executives like Stephen Hemsley of UnitedHealth Group, who made nearly $102 million in 2009, for the sky-high price of American health care, the president�s Democratic supporters bought into the myth that it was all those people going to get free colonoscopies and chemotherapy for the fun of it.

I believe Obamacare�s rocky start � clueless planning, a lousy website, insurance companies raising rates, and the president�s telling people they could keep their coverage when, in fact, not all could � is a result of one fatal flaw: The Affordable Care Act is a pro-insurance-industry plan implemented by a president who knew in his heart that a single-payer, Medicare-for-all model was the true way to go. When right-wing critics �expose� the fact that President Obama endorsed a single-payer system before 2004, they�re actually telling the truth.

What we now call Obamacare was conceived at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and birthed in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney, then the governor. The president took Romneycare, a program designed to keep the private insurance industry intact, and just improved some of its provisions. In effect, the president was simply trying to put lipstick on the dog in the carrier on top of Mitt Romney�s car. And we knew it.

By 2017, we will be funneling over $100 billion annually to private insurance companies. You can be sure they�ll use some of that to try to privatize Medicare.

For many people, the �affordable� part of the Affordable Care Act risks being a cruel joke. The cheapest plan available to a 60-year-old couple making $65,000 a year in Hartford, Conn., will cost $11,800 in annual premiums. And their deductible will be $12,600. If both become seriously ill, they might have to pay almost $25,000 in a single year. (Pre-Obamacare, they could have bought insurance that was cheaper but much worse, potentially with unlimited out-of-pocket costs.)

And yet � I would be remiss if I didn�t say this � Obamacare is a godsend. My friend Donna Smith, who was forced to move into her daughter�s spare room at age 52 because health problems bankrupted her and her husband, Larry, now has cancer again. As she undergoes treatment, at least she won�t be in terror of losing coverage and becoming uninsurable. Under Obamacare, her premium has been cut in half, to $456 per month.

Let�s not take a victory lap yet, but build on what there is to get what we deserve: universal quality health care.

Those who live in red states need the benefit of Medicaid expansion. It may have seemed like smart politics in the short term for Republican governors to grab the opportunity offered by the Supreme Court rulings that made Medicaid expansion optional for states, but it was long-term stupid: If those 20 states hold out, they will eventually lose an estimated total of $20 billion in federal funds per year � money that would be going to hospitals and treatment.

In blue states, let�s lobby for a public option on the insurance exchange � a health plan run by the state government, rather than a private insurer. In Massachusetts, State Senator James B. Eldridge is trying to pass a law that would set one up. Some counties in California are also trying it. Montana came up with another creative solution. Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat who just completed two terms, set up several health clinics to treat state workers, with no co-pays and no deductibles. The doctors there are salaried employees of the state of Montana; their only goal is their patients� health. (If this sounds too much like big government to you, you might like to know that Google, Cisco and Pepsi do exactly the same.)

All eyes are on Vermont�s plan for a single-payer system, starting in 2017. If it flies, it will change everything, with many states sure to follow suit by setting up their own versions. That�s why corporate money will soon flood into Vermont to crush it. The legislators who�ll go to the mat for this will need all the support they can get: If you live east of the Mississippi, look up the bus schedule to Montpelier.

So let�s get started. Obamacare can�t be fixed by its namesake. It�s up to us to make it happen.

Michael Moore is a documentary filmmaker whose 2007 film �Sicko� examined the American health care industry.