Massachusetts’ Universal Health Initiative Care Down, But Not Dead
Although Question 5, which "would have paved the way for universal health care in Massachusetts," failed at the ballot box, the state's universal health care backers remain "undaunted" and have launched a new proposal, the AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports. The ballot question called for universal coverage by 2002, "but did not describe how to get there," the AP/Telegram & Gazette reports. According to Mass. Care coalition spokesperson Linda Stamm, the new plan, "to be filed as legislation this week," would establish a 15-member panel to collect "all the money paid for health care services" and distribute the funds to providers. She added that recent health care crises -- including several HMOs dropping coverage for seniors and the financial problems facing nursing homes and hospitals -- have increased the urgency for universal health care. "Eventually, people get behind it," she said. But Peter Ajemian, a spokesperson for Massachusetts HMOs, disagreed, stating that the state's health care system does not face a crisis. "Can a new government-operated bureaucracy do a better job than existing health plans at delivering health care?" he asked, adding, "I don't think one could demonstrate the current health care system is failing" (AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 12/5).
Meanwhile, the patient advocate group Health Care for All on Dec. 5 will unveil a new cigarette tax hike proposal to boost health insurance for low-income Massachusetts residents. Under the plan, the state would increase the cigarette tax by 50 cents per pack to raise additional funds for Massachusetts' Medicaid program and prescription drug coverage for seniors. "We want to keep working toward full universal health care for everyone, but we feel it's important to make these legislative steps along the way," Health Care for All Deputy Director Marcia Hams said. State Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Mark Montigny (D) will sponsor the legislation (Powell, Boston Herald, 12/5). According to Hams, the new cigarette tax would raise about $270 million, including federal matching funds, and provide insurance for about 100,000 of the state's 400,000 uninsured. Cigarette companies oppose the measure, pointing out that cigarettes already incur high taxes --76 cents per pack, the highest rate in New England -- and that a tax hike would only hurt the "poorest cigarette consumers" (AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 12/5). In addition, the proposal may face opposition from Gov. Paul Cellucci (D). "We are generally resistant to the idea of raising taxes," Cellucci spokesperson John Birtwell said, adding, "And there is an equity issue -- smokers are already paying an exorbitant price for their addiction." Supporters contend, however, that the cigarette tax increase has "broad" support and could reduce smoking by 3%-5%. To pass the legislation, Health Care for All has joined forces with the American Cancer Society and the Massachusetts Medical Society to raise cigarette taxes throughout New England (Boston Herald, 12/5).