Last week, President Trump and the Republicans in Washington came dangerously close to taking health insurance away from tens of millions of Americans. Millions more would have lost coverage for preexisting conditions or seen their premiums increase. Massachusetts and other states that expanded their Medicaid programs would have lost billions of dollars in federal support, with cruel consequences for our most vulnerable citizens. Across the country — in a dramatic victory for grassroots organizing — concerned citizens barely stopped this heartless bill through a barrage of phone calls, letters, online appeals, and in-person expressions of concern.
But the fight for affordable, high-quality health care is far from over. Trump and the Republicans are hell-bent on repealing Obamacare. If they cannot repeal it outright, they will run it into the ground. With all eyes on Graham-Cassidy, the Department of Health & Human Services has been quietly sabotaging Obamacare marketplaces by slashing enrollment efforts, intermittently shutting down healthcare.gov, and destabilizing the system by refusing to commit to subsidies long term.
Who has the most to lose? Our children, the poor, and other vulnerable populations — the very people who can do the least to fight for themselves. On Saturday night, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) — which has long enjoyed bipartisan support — expired because Congress failed to reauthorize it. More than nine million of the country’s most vulnerable children get their health insurance through CHIP, including 185,000 children in Massachusetts. These children will not immediately lose their coverage, but Congress’s failure to reauthorize the program puts their health insurance at risk, destabilizes the system, and makes it much harder for state officials to plan for the future. Congress should act right away to reauthorize this critical program.
When I was the Chief of the Health Care Division in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, our health reform bill was a model for the country. I had the privilege of working with a broad coalition of advocates, doctors, business leaders, and government officials from both parties. We addressed important questions about access, consumer protection, racial disparities, cost, and quality. Working together, we made dramatic progress on increasing health care access and laid the groundwork for Obamacare at the national level. One of the things that I learned from that experience is that even with good faith bipartisan cooperation, making health reform work for everyone is an enormous challenge. Trump’s efforts to sabotage this process, with the aid of federal agencies and congressional majorities, will cause major disruptions and real suffering — even if Trump continues to fail in his cruel efforts to repeal Obamacare legislatively.
Washington is broken, on this issue as with many issues. To move forward, Massachusetts and other states will need to lead the way. While we have made tremendous progress in increasing access to health insurance over the past decade in Massachusetts, much more remains to be done. Health care costs continue to rise, threatening to bankrupt our state and undermine the access gains we have made. Prescription drugs are too expensive. Too few people have access to affordable dental care. The growing epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose deaths is a public health emergency that continues to devastate our families and our communities.
It’s time for Massachusetts to adopt a single payer system and again be a model for the country. Access to high quality health care is a right for everyone. As we have in the past, Massachusetts should lead the way on health reform, building a single payer system at the state level that ensures that everyone has access to the health care services we need.
The fight to make affordable, high-quality health care available to all will require a sustained effort at both the state and federal level. As a candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, I am committed to doing everything I can to put poverty and inequality at the center of that conversation. Voices for children, the poor, and the most vulnerable in our society are needed now more than ever.
Quentin Palfrey is a Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. He previously served as Senior Advisor for Jobs & Competitiveness in President Obama’s White House Office of Science & Technology Policy and as Chief of the Health Care Division in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. More information about his campaign is available here: www.quentinpalfrey.com