Healthy Boston, Number 1. January 2014

Bring Healthcare Justice to Greater Boston

A dozen stalwarts braved early winter's icy blasts on December 10th in Jamaica Plain to consider launching a grassroots movement in Boston to make quality health care a right all can equally enjoy. Bringing together insights and experiences from such varied organizations as Mass-Care, Massachusetts Peace Action, Service Employees International Union, the Budget for All Campaign, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, United for Justice with Peace, Democratic Socialists of America and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, some common themes and concerns quickly emerged.

Health insurance companies are universally reviled, wasting thirty percent of our healthcare dollar. A single-payer, Medicare-for-all approach, without the commercial health insurance companies, would bring us closer to our shared vision of a just healthcare system, guaranteeing universal access, affordability, quality and equality.

But we are now confronted with health disparities based on neighborhood, language, gender, sexual orientation, age and background. Our choice of doctor and hospital is increasingly narrowed as out-of-pocket costs rise.

Boston has pioneered the use of community health centers, culturally competent care close to home. But Roxbury Comprehensive Community Health Center has been closed and rumors abound that another center is on the brink of closing. Violence and substance abuse are threatening our communities yet the clinics to treat addiction and mental health problems are being closed both at safety-net hospitals and at richer facilities.

And the threat of the importation of the deadliest germs on the planet, for which there are no known cures, continues at the Boston University site on Albany Street near Boston Medical Center. These Level-4 bioterror labs have proliferated since 2001, and development of biological weapons is the result. Environmental racism remains a major risk to the Roxbury-South End community. The focus now is on the incoming mayor and city council to follow through on promises made during the recent election campaign.

We took note of the party caucuses beginning in February as places to lobby for healthcare justice and step up the pressure on prospective candidates for state offices. For example, Don Berwick, founder of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and former head of the the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, is planning a gubernatorial race and has stated his openness to single-payer universal health care in the Commonwealth. Vermont comes to mind, where a solid grassroots movement for health care as a human right, launched in 2008 by the Vermont Workers' Center, has blossomed into a mandate to unfold a single-payer system in 2017, when the federal Affordable Care Act will allow states to experiment with new approaches to cover everyone.

Seven questions are headed to the Massachusetts ballot in November. Two relate to healthcare justice. The Patient Safety Act would set enforceable staffing standards in hospitals to counter the deadly corner-cutting tricks pushed by consultants and administrators. The Hospital Profit Transparency & Fairness Act tackles the have/have-not split in health care, where some hospitals and their CEOs roll in dough while the safety-net and community facilities teeter on the brink. The success of these questions in 2014 may open the path ahead for such breakthroughs as a single-payer ballot question in 2016.

We agreed not only to continue our efforts in our neighborhoods and in our unions but to continue working together to help launch a healthcare human rights campaign right here in Boston. Won't you join us?

Election Followthrough

On December 18th I went to English High School for Mayor-elect Marty Walsh Transition Team’s public health public hearing, where I offered verbal testimony on health priorities for Boston, making three points:

  • Stop the Bush-BU Level-4 Bioterror lab, a prime example of environmental racism by Boston University and the National Institutes of Health. The mayor-elect and nine out of thirteen incoming councillors have pledged to block Level-4 work.
  • Preserve the public health mission of Boston Medical Center. Keep Saint Elizabeth’s Medical Center open in Brighton and the Carney open in Dorchester. Stop the cutbacks in needed services, such as Partners’ closing of the dedicated in-patient substance abuse unit at Brigham & Women’s Faulkner Hospital.
  • Defend and expand the community health centers, culturally competent care close to home. The closing of Roxbury Comprehensive Community Health Center and the risk of other closings are tragedies that people from every neighborhood need to rally to prevent.

Since the privatization of the new Boston City Hospital in 1996, the City has had limited control over health care in Boston, so I suggested that the Mayor and Council use the bully pulpit to press for justice, make strategic use of the City’s permitting powers, and advocate for the health needs of the people with state and federal elected and appointed officials. - Sandy Eaton

Massachusetts Senior Action Council Healthcare Survey

Healthcare Inequity Persists

Many Massachusetts residents receive a startling birthday present on their sixty-fifth birthday - escalating healthcare premiums that prevent many people from accessing affordable care. Today, 98.1 percent of adults and 99.8 percent of children are insured in Massachusetts. Despite this success, many seniors continue to struggle with escalating healthcare costs due to age alone. Massachusetts residents under 65 years old with incomes below 300 percent of the poverty line, or about $34,000 a year, have access to Commonwealth Care. These residents pay a sliding scale depending on their incomes. However, Commonwealth Care is not available to people over 65, which creates a large affordability gap for the state’s older residents who shut out from this state subsidy. The lack of an equitable, sliding scale to determine monthly premiums means that older residents are left paying the high costs of Medicare no matter what their income level.

This healthcare inequity, based on age alone, is stretching seniors’ pocketbooks to the breaking point. The quality of care available to Commonwealth Care and Medicare recipients also creates a service gap between the age groups. Commonwealth Care covers vision, dental, hearing, and podiatry visits, which are services Medicare doesn’t cover.

To better understand these challenges and additional hurdles in accessing medical care and obtaining affordable coverage, Mass Senior Action is conducting a healthcare survey at senior centers and senior housing across the Commonwealth.

Take the MSAC Healthcare Survey

What is Healthcare Justice?

  • Access: Can you get the care you need?
  • Affordability: Will you go bankrupt if you do?
  • Quality: Will you survive your encounter?
  • Equality: Do you meet special barriers to care?

In our world-class medical Mecca, safety-net hospitals and clinics are at risk of closing, vital services are cut back and health outcomes in communities of color are as bad as they were forty years ago. State and federal market-based reforms have not fixed these crises. We need to come together to find our way forward and to win just health care for ourselves, our families and our community.

Directory:

For more information on campaigns to make health care a right, not a commodity:

Mass-Care
Healthcare NOW!
Labor Campaign for Single Payer

For help navigating the current system:

Health Care For All - Massachusetts
Consumer Health HelpLine :: (800) 272-4232

Sponsor: Boston Ad Hoc Committee for Healthcare Justice

For more information:

Quentin Davis @ 617-364-5025 or occsludge@occupyboston.org
Sandy Eaton @ 617-510-6496 or sandyern@comcast.net