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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Can Rhode Island provide universal health coverage?

By Will Weatherly in Rhode Island’s Future

Related imageDemocratic candidate for Governor Matt Brown announced last Friday that he supports a “Medicare for All” plan for Rhode Island, which will both counter Gov. Raimondo’s Medicaid cuts and “save Rhode Island money every year,” he said in a press release.

“If people lose a job, they lose their health care. Small businesses pay so much to insure their employees, it stops them from hiring even when they need the extra help,” said the press release. 

“For 40,000 Rhode Islanders, there is no affordable insurance plan so they have none; they use emergency rooms and urgent care clinics, and the bills pile up.”

Brown’s proposal, he says, will “create a state health insurance system that mirrors the most successful, affordable and comprehensive health insurance provider in the country—Medicare —and covers the health care needs of everyone in Rhode Island.”

He says it will save the state money by shifting “administrative costs and insurance executives’ high salaries.” 

This week, the Mercatus Center, a Koch-funded libertarian think tank, agrees. It released a report which found a national Medicare for All plan would save Americans around $2.054 trillion over a ten-year period, according to a report at Jacobin.

Brown’s proposal also attacked the problems faced by the rollout of Rhode Island’s health and human services software UHIP under the Raimondo administration, as well as Gov. Raimondo’s cuts to Medicaid as proposed in her state budget this year; the proposed cuts amounted to $150 million, according to a report on the governor’s budget from the Economic Progress Institute.

“In her rush to cut Medicaid spending and privatize the state benefits system, Governor Raimondo launched UHIP despite federal and state warnings not to do so. The consequences were and remain disastrous,” the Brown release read. “Governor Raimondo’s failed system left tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders hungry and unable to go to the doctor, and undermined the state’s ability to collect crucial federal matching funds.”

The Raimondo campaign released a five-point proposal for economic reform on Monday, which included increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit and attacking both the gender wage gap and wage theft, but her proposal did not include a single-payer or Medicare for All plan. 

Despite the governor’s comments which appeared favorable to single-payer “on a national level” during a WPRI Newsmakers interview last fall, when pushed by the Providence Journal as to whether she supported either proposal, campaign spokeswoman Emily Samsel said only that the “Affordable Care Act is working in Rhode Island.”

On Monday, the Republican Governor’s Association attacked Democratic gubernatorial candidates nationwide for their support for single-payer healthcare, arguing that it “lead to an economic catastrophe for the American economy and in individual states” and that “Democrat gubernatorial candidates across the country have embraced single-payer—but have largely failed to explain how they would pay for such a massive spending scheme.”

Fellow state proponents of a Medicare for All proposal include state representative and candidate for lieutenant governor Aaron Regunberg (District 4, Providence) and Sen. Jeanine Calkin (District 30, Warwick), who both introduced legislation for a “Medicare for All-style single-payer system” in the General Assembly in January. 

Such a system, Sen. Calkin said in a press release, “will allow health care providers to focus on taking care of patients and not the administration required for insurance reimbursement. And it provides patients the security of knowing they can go to the doctor or hospital without getting hit with unexpected bills or bankruptcy when those costs pile up.”

Will Weatherly is a contributor to RI Future and a senior editor at the College Hill Independent. He lives in Providence, RI. You can follow him on Twitter @willbweatherly.