Ohio Single-Payer Proposal Gets Attention

Compiled from press releases and Gongwere News Service, followed by reprint from Youngstown Vindicator

Single-Payer Action Network Ohio (SPAN Ohio) is mobilizing to gather signatures for a petition that would make a proposal for a single-payer universal health care system a state law. SPAN, a labor-led group that includes physicians and other health care advocates, was cleared last month by Attorney General Jim Petro to begin collecting signatures for an initiated statute to present to the General Assembly.

The following speakers were featured at a September 9 SPAN press conference in Columbus:

Jerry Gordon -- Secretary, SPAN Ohio, Cleveland, Ohio; Peetee Talley -- Secretary-Treasurer, Ohio AFL-CIO, Gahanna, Ohio; Johnathon Ross, M.D. -- Past President, Physicians for a National Health Program, Toledo, Ohio; Sen. Robert F. Hagan -- 33rd District, Youngstown, Ohio; The Rev. Dr. Leslie E. Stansbery -- President Interfaith Association of Central Ohio, Columbus, Ohio; Mary Lou Shaw, M.D. -- Member, SPAN Ohio Executive Committee and State Council, Washington Court House, Ohio; David Pavlick -- International Representative, UAW, on behalf of Lloyd Mahaffey, Director, UAW Region 2-B, Cleveland, Ohio; Bob Smiddie -- Member, SPAN Ohio Executive Committee and State Council, Pomeroy, Ohio; Rep. Michael Skindell -- 13th District, Lakewood, Ohio; David Lewis -- Medical Student, Medical College of Ohio at Toledo.

The Statehouse news conference was mainly to publicize the official kickoff of the campaign, but supporters got some more rhetorical ammunition in the form of a study released the same day by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The annual survey of employers found that insurance premiums increased an average of 11.2% for 2004, which is five times the annual rate of inflation and worker earning increases.

While the 2004 increase in health care insurance premiums was lower than last year’s 13.9% rise, the California-based research group noted that it’s the fourth year in a row that health care costs have seen double-digit growth.

The survey indicated an average annual cost of $9,950 for family coverage. It found that 61% of all workers covered by their employers this year, which was the same as last year but down from the peak of 65% in 2001.

“The cost of family health insurance is rapidly approaching the gross earnings of a full-time minimum wage worker,” Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman said in a statement. “If these trends continue, workers and employers will find it increasingly difficult to pay for family health coverage and every year the share of Americans who have employer-sponsored health coverage will fall.”

Senator Robert Hagan (D-Youngstown), a key backer of the SPAN-Ohio plan and the sponsor of mirror legislation introduced Thursday (SB 263), couldn’t have said it better himself. In fact, the lawmaker, who has been trying for years to bring universal health care to the state, has been citing data that’s somewhat less bleak than the Kaiser report’s.

“It’s another indication of why this health care system is falling apart at the seams,” Senator Hagan said of the Kaiser survey. The findings, he added, are “devastating” to employers who strive to provide coverage and to the employees who can’t afford it themselves.

The plan would create an Ohio Health Care Fund to receive up to $48 billion a year in increased business and income taxes, which would pay for the broad-based health coverage. The annual figure came from a Legislative Service Commission estimate that supporters said doesn’t account for administrative cost savings and other offsets. SPAN-Ohio pegs the annual cost at about $25 billion and argues that the state’s economy as a whole would be better off.

“Ohio could save billions each year,” said Dr. Jonathan Ross, a SPAN-Ohio council member and former president of Physicians for a National Health Plan.

Dr. Mary Lou Shaw joined Dr. Ross, officers of the AFL-CIO and UAW, and other supporters at the kickoff event. Rep. Michael Skindell (D-Lakewood) also attended the news conference and, like Senator Hagan, introduced an implementation bill (HB 548) Thursday.

“We have plenty of money in Ohio already to give health care to everyone,” Dr. Shaw said. “It makes no sense to continue a dysfunctional payment system

Dr. Shaw cited real life examples of patients who died for lack of health care coverage or concerns about co-pays. Some 18,000 Ohioans die each year due to a lack of insurance coverage, she said. “We do have the power to prevent this tragedy.”

Senator Hagan said the private sector has proven it isn’t up to the task of insuring Ohioans for their health needs. “This system is indefensible,” he said. The skyrocketing costs and other factors that have increased the number of uninsured in Ohio to 1.4 million are due to “a system that really doesn’t care about taking care of people. They care more about the bottom line.”


From the Youngstown Vindicator

To stir health-care debate, group challenges critics

Published: Fri, Sep 10, 2004

Coverage would be provided regardless of income or employment status.

By JEFF ORTEGA

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS. A group that wants to gain health-care coverage for every citizen in the state is challenging the health insurance industry and the state's top insurance official to debate merits of the plan.

Single-Payer Action Network Ohio, which is trying to gather at least 97,000 valid signatures statewide to force the GOP-led Legislature to consider its proposal, has sent letters to the Ohio Association of Health Plans and State Insurance Department Director Ann Womer Benjamin asking for a series of debates.

"Debates of the kind proposed here would, in our opinion, be immensely helpful in educating the public about the issues at stake," said the letters from Jerry Gordon, SPAN Ohio's secretary. SPAN Ohio is a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations seeking health-care reform.

Neither Kelly McGivern, president and CEO of the OAHP, nor the insurance department could immediately be reached to comment Thursday. But both have been critical of SPAN Ohio's plan.

Among the potential problems listed by critics with SPAN Ohio's plan are potentially long waiting periods for medical consumers and a potential government-run bureaucracy overseeing health care in Ohio.

How it works

Under the proposed initiative petition, state residents would receive coverage for inpatient and outpatient hospital, preventive, mental health and other care.

Coverage would be provided regardless of income or employment status and there will be no exclusions for pre-existing conditions and no co-payments or deductibles, under the proposed initiative petition filed in July with the state.

The coverage would be paid for using receipts from taxes levied on employers' payrolls, receipts from taxes levied on businesses' gross receipts and some personal income taxes, according to the proposed initiative petition.

Needs signatures

The group got clearance from Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro's office and will be collecting more than 97,000 signatures to place the issue before the Legislature. If the group gets enough valid signatures, state lawmakers would have four months to consider the issue. Otherwise, the group can collect another 97,000 signatures to place the issue on the statewide ballot.

If adopted, the plan could be historic for Ohio, Gordon said. "It will establish health care as a right to be enjoyed by all."

Gordon said supporters are gathering signatures and hope to submit at least 140,000 to get the issue before state lawmakers.

Backers of the health-care proposal said the plan will mirror bills introduced by state Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown and state Rep. Michael Skindell of Lakewood, both Democrats.