Earlier this week, both Holyoke and South Hadley overwhelmingly passed municipal resolutions in support of Medicare for All legislation. A few weeks earlier, Boston’s City Council did the same. They join Northampton, Cambridge, Williamsburg, and assorted other communities that have passed similar resolutions.
After years of obstruction from state-level politicians, this municipal-level show of support is welcome and needed.
Medicare for All almost needs no explanation at this point — the idea that citizens should receive medical coverage paid through the government is growing in popularity. Recent polls have indicated that about 70 percent of Americans — not just Democrats — are in favor of the idea. It’s the legislators that have been slow to support it.
Even in deep blue Massachusetts, it seems unlikely to pass the state Legislature this year, according to Deborah Levenson of Western Mass Medicare for All. Still, she says, it may come soon.
About a third of state legislators are on the record supporting Medicare for All this session, which is the highest level of support it’s ever received, Levenson said.
“In the past we had 10 legislators from Western Mass and it is up to 16 already this session,” she said.
It’s now been about six months since a local nonbinding ballot question on Medicare for All passed in every single city and town where it was presented — 36 in all. Some, like Amherst and Northampton — where the ballot question passed with 88 percent and 87 percent, respectively — were gimmes for the single-payer movement. But others included the small Hampden County town of Montgomery, which was one of the only communities in the state where another ballot resolution affirming transgender rights failed. It also voted in favor of Medicare for All.
A significant majority of Massachusetts residents seem to be eager to try the legislation in this state, which has traditionally been a leader in health care, most notably with the pioneer program (“Romneycare”) that led to the Affordable Care Act under President Obama.
Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, is among them. Vega’s district voted overwhelmingly in favor of the legislation in 2018. While Vega had not previously signed on, he had said he would wait to see the results of the nonbinding ballot question. The results must have convinced him.
Former representatives John Scibak of South Hadley and Stephen Kulik of Worthington, who retired in 2018, were not supporters. Neither was former Sen. Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst, who stepped down after a scandal involving his husband the same year. Those that replaced them — Dan Carey of Easthampton, Natalie Blais of Sunderland, and Jo Comerford of Northampton — are all cosponsors now. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow also recently announced his support.
Comerford and first-time lawmaker Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton (who is the lead sponsor for Medicare for All in the House) are actually two of the founders of the freshly-minted Medicare for All Legislative Caucus. It’s a group that has never existed before.
Unfortunately, movement on this issue is not going to come from Democratic leadership in the Legislature. But what we are seeing is a bottom-up demand for change.
It makes sense. Even more than taxes, health care is a pocketbook issue for people. While taxation largely follows income — so the less you make, the less you pay — health insurance offered through employers costs the same regardless of how much you make in your company.
Last year, I looked at what I pay for health insurance vs. what I pay in state taxes — about $4,700 for health insurance compared with $1,100 in state taxes. Even multiplying state taxes by a factor of five, a ludicrously high tax increase, I’d still come out ahead if I didn’t have to pay for health insurance. The numbers this year aren’t very different. Most working people would benefit immensely from such a single-payer system.
We can hope for federal legislation eventually, and perhaps it will come. But it’s far less likely unless some states — like ours — step up and enact it first.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.