Rate shock underscores need for single-payer health care

The Lowell Sun

As they make their case for shifting to single-payer health care, two Democrats hoping to seize the Corner Office next year are pointing to soaring premium increases for individuals who purchase insurance through the Massachusetts Health Connector.

After President Donald Trump last week announced he would end subsidies the federal government pays monthly to insurers to defray the costs of some plans — known as cost-sharing reduction payments — the Health Connector on Thursday said it would raise its rates for next year more than originally anticipated, to cover the lost funds.

The decision means some 80,000 people are facing premium increases of about 26 percent.

Jay Gonzalez and Setti Warren, Democrats vying for their party’s gubernatorial nomination in 2018, each said the move highlights affordability problems in the state’s health care system and called for a single-payer model instead.

“Too many people in Massachusetts are already struggling with health insurance they can’t afford to use,” Warren, the mayor of Newton, said in a statement to the News Service. “The political games being playing [sic] in Washington will only make it worse until we recognize that the only way to ensure health care as a basic right is to implement a single-payer system right now. Across the Commonwealth, I’ve talked to too many people who already have to decide between filling a prescription or buying food or between scheduling a doctor’s appointment and making a mortgage payment.

That’s wrong. If Health Connector rates shoot up next year, even more Massachusetts families will be left behind.”

A report released last month by the Center for Health Information and Analysis found that health insurance premiums in Massachusetts increased by an average 2.6 percent in 2016, to $464 per member per month, while average regional income increased by 2.9 percent and inflation was 1.5 percent. Health insurance cost-sharing climbed 4.4 percent to $49 per member per month, or $587 annually.

Gonzalez, who was CEO of the health insurer CeltiCare, called Trump’s decision to end the subsidies “terrible” for Massachusetts and the country.

“It’s going to put a real burden on a lot of people, thousands of people in Massachusetts, and possibly make their health insurance unaffordable for them, and that’s a bad outcome,” Gonzalez said. “So we should be doing, and our governor should be doing, everything he possibly can to prevent this from happening in Washington, and advocating as much as we can for Congress to overturn this decision and meanwhile, actually have a plan for how to deal with it here.”

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