California keeps passing bills for state single-payer healthcare, but Ahhhnold won't sign em, and Jerry Brown who wants to be governor doesn't seem to want it badly enough to make a commitment on healthcare. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania is encouraged that their current governor has said he probably will sign a single-payer healthcare bill, and the legislature just might pass one. But Minnesota has an angle neither of these other states can claim: a serious candidate for governor who is the state's leading advocate for single-payer.
State Senator John Marty was the Democratic nominee for governor of Minnesota 16 years ago and is making another run for it. My friend Vin Gopal, who's working on Marty's campaign, tells me "Senator John Marty is the real deal. If he gets elected Governor this year, which he has a good shot at, it's a whole new ballgame for the single-payer movement. No other statewide candidate in the country is as committed to the movement as he is."
Marty tells me he's optimistic about bringing single-payer healthcare to Minnesota, and that he has a third of the legislature on board with it at this point. Marty's election campaign can be supported here http://johnmarty.org and the campaign for single-payer in Minnesota can be found here http://muhcc.org and here http://mnhealthplan.org
The legislation currently moving forward is somewhat unusual. Like any single-payer plan, it would eliminate the for-profit health insurance companies and all of their bureaucracy. It would cover all medical needs of all Minnesota residents. There would be no co-pays, deductibles, or out-of-pocket expenses. All bills would be paid by the single plan. Those who now have no coverage would be covered. Those who do have coverage would, in most or all cases, save money in the new system which would be far more efficient, purchase drugs in bulk, etc. All of that should be familiar to supporters of single-payer or visitors to civilized nations. What's different is that the word "premium" would still be around.
Most single-payer healthcare plans raise funding through taxes. The Minnesota plan would ask the same Department of Revenue that collects taxes to collect premiums from both individuals and businesses, but the premiums would go into a separate fund for healthcare that could never be tapped for anything else. Premiums would be based on each person's ability to pay, but they would not be optional. However, they would fund a public system developed by elected representatives, unlike the legislation being considered in Congress which would require people to fund for-profit corporations that come with the built-in motivation to provide as little healthcare as possible.
Will Minnesota be our Saskatchewan, the Canadian province that led the way on healthcare? Not if Maryland can help it. I asked Eric Naumburg, a doctor with the Maryland chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, where things stood in his state, and he told me:
"We have bills in both the Maryland Senate (SB-682) and House of Delegates (HB-767). The Senate Bill has 12 co-sponsors and the House Bill 38; that's approximately 1/4 of each chamber. So far we have only Democrats on board. The leadership has not taken serious notice yet but there are some good signs and we are really just getting started. Also, between the state's budget problems, the upcoming election and the health insurance reform mess in Washington, we hear lots of excuses for why not this year.
"The reality is that our bill, which is modeled after the one that has passed twice in California, has only general language about funding. We are raising money for an economic impact study on the effects of single payer. Key areas would include the effect on the state budget and economic growth within Maryland. This will help us with the best ways to fund the system. We continue to build our grassroots movement. This summer we are planning a concerted effort to talk to as many legislators as possible.
"As you have probably heard we have been collaborating on a weekly basis with groups from California and Pennsylvania; learning from each other's experiences. California and Pennsylvania are further along in this process than we are; but we're working to catch up. Also, the knowledge that there are several states working on state level single-payer healthcare reform has had a positive effect on some of our legislators. Down the road there is the possibility that a region could develop single payer reform, e.g. two or more adjoining states."
Maryland and Pennsylvania? The Mason Dixon line crossed by a humane healthcare region? Why not. And who knows, maybe the nation someday!
The Maryland Senate bill is scheduled for a hearing March 10th at 1:00 p.m. in the Finance Committee.