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Health Care Reform Report

November 2, 2011
Aileen Satushek, Board Member
United for National Healthcare

There is a lot going on in the movement for health care reform in the USA. As previously reported in May 2011, the New England states of Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut have a lot happening as does California. The latest development is that as of September 2011, Montana is moving toward a single payer health care system. Below is a summary of current state health care reform activity.

In a September 28, 2011 article in the Billings Gazette, it was reported that Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer said that he would ask the U.S. government to let Montana set up its own universal health care program. He would like to model Montana’s universal health care program after that of Saskatchewan, which is a single payer health care system. He envisions a system that would cover all the uninsured in Montana. Currently states cannot receive waivers until 2017, unless a bill introduced by Senator Sanders of Vermont is adopted that would permit waivers being granted in 2014.

Governor Schweitzer stated that a “Medicare for All” system would allow Montana to control costs by negotiating prices for pharmaceuticals and limiting non-emergency procedures such as MRIs.

Massachusetts enacted a state health care reform law in 2006. The federal health care law is modeled on the Massachusetts law. The good news is that 97% of residents now have health care coverage. The bad news is that 3% still lack coverage and medical bankruptcies have not been reduced.

Connecticut enacted a public option state law in 2009 called SustiNet. The law is a work in progress and will not be fully implemented until 2014. Private health insurance companies will compete with a public state program that will be gradually phased in to cover state employees, state retirees, those without insurance, small and large employers and others. The SustiNet board establishes committees to make recommendations to it about health information technology, medical homes, clinical care and safety guidelines, and preventative care and improved health outcomes.

Vermont is a bit confusing to those of us working for national single payer health care. The bill scheduled to be signed by Governor Shumlin today (5/26/11) paves the way for the state to launch a health system approaching a single payer model within 10 years. In the meantime it creates a state health insurance exchange under the federal law that will be operational by 2014 and a possible state public option that will be operational by 2017. All Vermont residents would be eligible to enroll in the state public option called Green Mountain Care . The state is expected to adopt payroll or income taxes to help pay for the plan.

State Senate Bill 810 would establish a Medicare for All type state single payer system. Two similar bills were introduced in 2006 and 2008 that were vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The plan is to have the new bill on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk by the summer of 2012. It has been estimated that a single payer system would save California $8 billion per year in the state health care budget.

HR 676 and the American Health Security Act of 2011
On the federal level the single payer American Health Security Act was recently .introduced in the US House and Senate. The bill is broadly similar to HR 676 the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act. The differences are summarized in an article on the back table.( For more details, request from United for National Healthcare the article: Single Payer Bills before Congress: HR 676 Compared with American Health Security Act.)