As members of Congress plan a Tuesday hearing on health care reforms, advocates in Massachusetts are watching to see if a Wednesday deadline will bring a new step forward for state-level single-payer legislation.
The Health Care Financing Committee has until Wednesday to act on bills it received through late February, deciding whether individual pieces of legislation will move forward in the lawmaking process or reach a dead-end. A third option that lawmakers often exercise on controversial bills is an extension order that gives a committee more time to report on particular bills, albeit with time ticking away for House and Senate action. Formal legislative sessions end this year on July 31, the de facto deadline for advancement of major bills.
The slate of more than 270 bills remaining before the committee includes “Medicare for All” bills (S 766, H 1267) that would eliminate co-pays, deductibles and coinsurance and set up a state trust fund to pay for the health care of Massachusetts residents and non-residents who work here at least 20 hours a week.
Filed by Sen. Jamie Eldridge, Rep. Denise Garlick and Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, the bills propose funding the trust with new taxes, which supporters say would be in lieu of the significant amounts of money currently spent on premiums and out-of-pocket costs.
With the reporting deadline looming, Mass-Care, the advocacy group campaigning for single-payer health care in Massachusetts, has been encouraging its supporters to call committee chairs Sen. Cindy Friedman and Rep. John Lawn and ask them to report the bill out favorably.
“A full 40% of the legislature cosponsors the bill,” the group said in an email, noting that committee chairs have the final say on whether a bill advances. “While we are still short of a majority, we believe that the significant support for Medicare for All — among both legislators, and even more so among residents of the Commonwealth — warrants a serious examination of this legislation.”
Single-payer bills have been filed for years, and while the number of lawmakers signed on in support has grown over time, they have not gained enough traction to make it onto legislative leaders’ priority lists.
Democrats wield supermajorities in each branch, and the state Democratic Party’s 2021 platform includes a line saying Democrats will fight for “High-quality, accessible healthcare for all through a single-payer government-sponsored program, like Medicare, because healthcare is a human right.”
Over the past decade, the Health Care Financing Committee killed Medicare for All bills almost every session by including them in study orders. Some of those orders came after multiple deadline extensions. In 2020, the single-payer bills and other legislation before the committee died amid a House-Senate feud over extensions in the committee.
This year’s bills have 74 cosponsors, including 16 members of the 40-seat Senate and 58 from the 160-seat House. Mass-Care said 12 out of the Health Care Financing Committee’s 20 members signed onto the bill. The chairs, Democrats Friedman of Arlington and Lawn of Watertown, are not among them.
Lawn and Friedman questioned supporters about bill details during an October hearing, where insurance industry representatives testified in opposition and backers told lawmakers of the struggles they’ve faced trying to access and pay for health care.
At the federal level, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform has scheduled a Tuesday hearing “examining pathways to universal health coverage.” The committee, chaired by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, plans to assess how lack of insurance and underinsurance affect health outcomes and evaluate reforms like Medicare for All legislation.
The 9 a.m. hearing will be livestreamed.