Candidates surveyed on single-payer positions

  • Francia Wisnewski Matthew Cavanaugh

  • Natalie Blais is the new Executive Director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce. August 21, 2017. Paul Franz , Paul Franz

  • Christine Doktor, candidate for 1st Franklin Seat, at Meet and Greet at First Congregational Church in Sunderland, April 13, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Desrochers

  • Jonathan Edwards Contributed photo

  • State Senate candidate Steve Connor speaks during a candidates forum organized by the League of Women Voters, Monday, Aug. 13, 2018 at Deerfield Academy.

  • Chelsea Kline, running for Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester District Senate Seat.

  • Recorder Staff/Dan Desrochers Recorder Staff/Dan Desrochers

  • Nathaniel Waring, candidate for 1st Franklin Seat, at Meet and Greet at First Congregational Church in Sunderland, April 13, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Desrochers

Published: 8/19/2018 8:49:51 PM

NORTHAMPTON — While many candidates 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, surveyed candidates on their position regarding 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 Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire 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, Steven 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, makes the argument that single-payer insurance would provide universal coverage while reducing health care 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 health care 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 support of 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 Franklin

In the 1st Franklin District, six of the seven Democratic candidates said they supported single-payer health insurance. Nathaniel Waring of Sunderland did not respond to the survey.

Kate Albright-Hanna of Huntington responded: “Our current system has a 30 percent overhead cost for administration. Medicare has 4 percent. If we implement an improved Medicare for All system, we can use that extra 26 percent to provide actual health care, as opposed to managing the insanity of the private insurance bureaucracy. Right now, many people who have insurance can’t afford to use it, while still having to pay many of the hidden costs of the current system (like taxes that go toward health care for public employees). A Medicare For All system will be entirely more transparent and simple — and most people will pay a lot less for their health care. Best of all, they’ll have the freedom to change jobs and choose their relationship status without worrying about how those decisions will impact their health care.”

Her biggest concern about establishing single-payer in the state is “how a hostile federal government could try to sabotage a state effort.”

Candidate Natalie Blais of Sunderland responded: “I support publicly administered universal single-payer health care coverage that is: UNIVERSAL — All Massachusetts residents should be covered regardless of medical history, age, income or employment. All providers would be included in order to eliminate worries about in-network vs. out-of-network expenses. COMPREHENSIVE — There should be no gaps. It should include coverage for prescriptions and medical devices. It would eliminate the need for supplemental insurance. ACCESSIBLE — Residents of the First Franklin District should not have to travel long distances to get the care that they need. We must provide better access to health care in rural areas and invest in the public transportation that will get patients to and from their doctor. FREE AT POINT OF SERVICE — No hidden fees. No co-pays. No deductibles.”

Candidate Christine Doktor of Cummington said: “By all metrics — including a recently released study supported by the Koch brothers — single-payer health care has the potential to provide more Americans with higher quality care at lower costs. The costs would be lower for individuals, families, municipalities and our Commonwealth. … Moving to a single-payer system will benefit all of us and will be particularly beneficial in relieving the health insurance costs burdening our underfunded public school districts.”

Jonathan Edwards of Whately responded: “Our current system is a budget buster for all individuals and organizations and is an unsustainable model. We need a health care system that provides the best possible service delivery, without financial consequences for individuals, organizations, employers or anyone else. … We need to change the debate from ‘if you support single-payer’ to ‘how can we implement single-payer’ if we are to move from a political debate to the critically important public policy debate.”

But he added, “We need to have an inclusive discussion that determines how single-payer should be implemented. One of the questions that deserves considerable dialogue and thought is the unemployment effects that will occur with the final transition.”

Candidate Casey Pease of Worthington said, “I think it’s critical that the next State Rep for the 1st Franklin district be a bold advocate for single-payer and I look forward to doing so. We can be creative in finding cost-saving and sharing measures by creating a regionalized single-payer network with states like Vermont, who have already passed single-payer but can’t afford it (according to their governor) with their small population.”

Pease added, “With the insurance industry as the largest employer in the state, it’s important that insurance company workers won’t lose their jobs and can find a space in the single-payer employment industry.”

Francia Wisnewski said, “Massachusetts has been a leader on health care and we need to continue to lead by enacting single-payer, including mental health, vision and dental care. Private health care is not accessible or affordable to many Massachusetts residents. We leave too many people behind under the current system.”

The candidates said they believe the biggest obstacle to establishing single-payer in the state is the influence of “the profit-driven health insurance industry, money in politics and legislative leadership.”

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