The Berks-Mont News (http://www.berksmontnews.com)

Guest Column by Karen Feridun A giant step closer to affordable health care


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pennsylvania is a giant step closer to providing its citizens with truly affordable health care with the introduction of the Pennsylvania Health Care Plan (PHCP), SB 400, introduced by Senator Jim Ferlo (D - Pittsburgh).
Under the legislation, Pennsylvania would institute a state-based single-payer health care system, a plan whose viability was recently confirmed in an Economic Impact Study (EIS) commissioned by Health Care for All PA, an advocacy group that has long-supported a single-payer system.
Berks County residents Rosie Skomitz and Ron Stouffer represented the organization at a press conference they hosted on Thursday in Reading. They were joined by the bill’s co-sponsor, Senator Judy Schwank, and Representatives Mark Rozzi and Tom Caltagirone, who both support the proposal and will co-sponsor the House version of the bill when it is introduced.
Schwank, Rozzi, and Caltagirone not only support single-payer; they represent the city of Reading whose cash-strapped school district stands to save more than 50 percent on its health care costs under the plan.
According to the EIS conducted by Gerald Friedman, Ph.D., Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, the Pennsylvania Health Care Plan is the antidote to the state’s unsustainable economic path.
“Between 1991 and 2009, spending on health care in the Commonwealth increased by $60 billion, rising nearly twice as fast as state income,” says Friedman. “Little of this increased spending can be attributed to improvements in health care. Instead, the fastest growth has been in administration and billing operations.”
The simplified system that would reduce the requisite administrative costs of the current health care system would allow all Pennsylvanians to enjoy expanded health care services while still saving more than $17 billion, or $1,335 per person.
The Reading School District wouldn’t be the only one to benefit. The Kutztown Area School District currently spends 20 percent of payroll on health care. Using 2009 data, a single-payer plan in place at that time would have cut their spending by half, which translates into savings of more than $1.3 million or 10 percent of total payroll. Entire programs could be spared with savings like that. In fact, Berks County’s 19 school districts would save a combined $47 million.
Of course, the benefits of single-payer are not only enjoyed by school districts. Indeed, any employer offering health care to its employees will save money under the flat 10 percent of payroll plan by cutting the money they spend on health care and the money they spend on the administrative costs of managing participation in their current plans. That adds up to more jobs created in other areas of their businesses.
Meanwhile, individuals would trade their current premiums, deductibles, and co-pays for a flat 3 percent tax on gross income and, for most, that means a big cost savings.
The benefits of PHCP include the following:
• Provides comprehensive coverage for every resident of Pennsylvania, including dental, vision and mental health services
• Eliminates the need for hospitals to absorb the cost of care for the uninsured.
• Reduces bureaucracy and administrative costs for private physicians resulting in improved compensation.
• Reduces or eliminates health insurance over-costs for small business, allowing for more job creation, greater investment of profits, and reduced workers’ compensation costs.
• Radically reduces the total cost of health care to levels more consistent with costs in the rest of the industrialized world.
Advocates of single-payer point to benefits of PHCP not found in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). When it is fully implemented, ACA will still leave half a million of Pennsylvanians without insurance and will not provide the expanded coverage found in PHCP to those who are covered.
Skomitz and Stouffer, both active members of the Kutztown Area Democratic Club, provide status reports on their work on single-payer at the club’s monthly potlucks. They also organized a health care forum at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Kutztown last October. For more information on single-payer and PHCP, visit Health Care for All PA’s website, http://healthcare4allpa.org/.
Karen Feridun, a resident of Kutztown, is president of the Kutztown Area Democratic Club and holds membership in numerous other groups, such as Berks Gas Truth.