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Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Second Middlesex Senate Race: a Window on Health Reform

Second Middlesex Senate Race: a Window on Health Reform

August 11, 2005

Special elections can be handy. Because candidates need to appeal directly to voters, their opinions present a window on current public attitudes. The special Second Middlesex State Senate race (primary August 30th) is such a window. Two leading candidates, former Rep. Joe Mackey and current Rep. Pat Jehlen responded to a questionnaire issued by the first-rate political blog, Blue Mass Group (required daily reading!). Their answers on health reform are revealing.

Health care: do you support the Health Access and Affordability Act, which would move toward universal health insurance through a combination of employer mandates and expanding MassHealth, and would be funded by an increase in the tobacco tax along with other sources? Other options on the table include Governor Romney’s individual mandate – would you support that approach? Would you go even further than any of these proposals, and if so, how?

First, Joe Mackey:

I strongly support the Health Access and Affordability Act (H. 2777, S. 738) as it strives towards universal health insurance, expanding affordable coverage and MassHealth and working with employers to meet the crucial health care needs of their employees. We can no longer tolerate the number of uninsured citizens growing, while health care access and affordability continue to deteriorate.

The impressive and effective Coalition of 32 Steering Committee members that has formed to promote the Health Access and Affordability Act gives us hope that this bill will be successfully passed. The American Cancer Society, Health Care for All, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Hospital Association are a few of the organizations that are working together to see that this effort becomes reality.

I am ready, willing and able to work with this Coalition and use my legislative skills as your next State Senator to help make sure that we improve and invigorate our affordable health care efforts.

I have been going around the Second Middlesex Senatorial District and speaking out against a number of Governor Romney’s proposals. I definitely do not agree with the Governor’s individual mandate that would punish those who can least afford the extremely high health insurance costs. It is ludicrous in its approach and mechanism.

I plan on spending a lot of my efforts in supporting high-quality health care coverage for all our residents, through the Health Care Trust bill and other proposals that will be before the Legislature. I will work to ensure that prescription drugs are affordable for our citizens, especially the elderly, who often have to choose between their needed prescriptions and food and shelter. I strongly support advancing medical research, including stem cell research.

As a Legislator, I spearheaded the Healthy Start program, which provides access to early, comprehensive and continuous prenatal care for low-income, uninsured women to improve the health of newborns and their mothers. This next legislative session is the time to finally come to grips with one of society’s greatest needs - health care for all.

And now Rep. Pat Jehlen:

Just this week I talked to a woman who works in an insurance company. She said individuals and small businesses are dropping their policies rapidly. It’s just not affordable. But the increase in uninsured people leads to poorer health as people defer treatment, and to higher costs as they use uncompensated care.

The Health Access and Affordability Act is the best of the incremental solutions, and I strongly support it. It has the kind of organizational support that gives it a chance to pass and expand coverage.

I support expanding MassHealth and restoring benefits such as dental care. I am the lead sponsor of a bill to extend benefits to the elderly and disabled. I certainly oppose the Governor's proposal to penalize those who cannot afford the exorbitant price of health insurance; his plan creates a lot more bureaucracy without addressing the real problems.

I have been a long time supporter of single payer universal healthcare, as proposed in the Mass. Health Care Trust bill. Until care is truly universal, and paid for by broadly based, progressive taxes, we will continue to have people denied basic care that they need and deserve and our system will be unfair and inefficient.

Finally, I support the constitutional amendment which would make access to affordable health care a constitutional, enforceable right. If passed, this amendment would increase pressure on the legislature to adopt a comprehensive solution.