Local man spearheads statewide healthcare movement

ROCKLAND (Dec 8): Jerry Call is a man with a mission. Call, who lives in Rockland and is one of the five founders of Midcoast Healthcare Reform, first learned about single-payer health care about a year ago when Dennis Kucinich was running in the Democratic presidential primaries and mentioned House Resolution 676 during the debates.

“Finally it sunk in as to what he was proposing,” Call said Dec. 5. “After he was shut out of the debates, a bunch of us were sitting around at dinner and decided to do something about it.”

In January 2007, Congressman John Conyers introduced the current version of H.R. 676, which Kucinich referred to as the “Medicare for All” bill. Currently the bill is in the hands of the congressional Subcommittee On Health.

H.R. 676 would establish the U.S. National Health Insurance program to provide all residents of the United States and U.S. territories with free health care that includes all medically necessary care, such as primary care and prevention, prescription drugs, emergency care, and mental health services.

The law would allow nonprofit health maintenance organizations that deliver care in their own facilities to participate in the USNHI program and would give patients the freedom to choose from participating physicians and institutions.

Private health insurers would not be able to sell health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under H.R. 676, but would be allowed to sell benefits for care that is not medically necessary, such as coverage for cosmetic surgery or private hospital rooms.

Since January, Call has been traveling throughout Maine and beyond to promote Conyers’ bill. In March his organization coordinated showings of Michael Moore’s film “SiCKO” in seven locations throughout the state. MCHR maintains a mailing list of 250 interested parties in the local area and gathered more than 7,000 signatures at the polls statewide on Nov. 4.

The petitions Call is circulating ask the Maine Legislature to endorse the federal bill. While the resolution advanced by the petition is not binding on Maine’s elected officials, Call hopes a strong groundswell of support will encourage the federal delegation to sign onto H.R. 676.

So far, none of the state’s representatives in Washington, D.C. have joined the 93 congressional co-sponsors. In June the U.S. Conference of Mayors expressed its support of the bill and called upon federal legislators to work toward its enactment. And polls repeatedly show a majority of Americans supporting national health-care coverage.

In a letter to Call, Maine’s U.S. Sen. Susan Collins stated that she “continue[s] to have many reservations about a single payer system,” and that she instead supports S. 158, which would provide a tax credit of $1,000 to individuals earning up to $30,000 and $3,000 for those earning up to $60,000. According to the Web site smartmoney.com, private health insurance premiums cost upward of $4,000 a year for individuals and generally include co-pay requirements and high out-of-pocket deductibles.

Rep. Ed Mazurek of Rockland is sponsoring the single-payer resolution in the Maine Legislature, and Rep. Andrew O’Brien of Lincolnville has agreed to co-sponsor it, Call said.

On Dec. 5, Mazurek said he supports Call’s project. “The system we have now seems broken,” he said. “We have such high premiums for health insurance because it’s private.” He also said he hoped statewide efforts like Call’s would help average Americans by building support so that H.R. 676 would pass in Congress.

Congresswoman-elect Chellie Pingree of North Haven said throughout the election campaign that she would sign on to H.R. 676. If it comes to the Congress in this session, she said Dec. 8, she will support the bill. But she added that the election of Barack Obama has changed the discussion about health care.

“The new Democratic Congress will mean more movement,” she said. “It’s a different dynamic when you have a president with a vision.” Pingree said she didn’t think she’d have a lot of clout as a freshman in the House, but she will push for single-payer or the most comprehensive reform possible. “We don’t want Congress to end up passing another iteration of managed care,” she said.

According to an article in the Sept. 24, 2007, issue of the Palm Beach Post, businesses contributed $2,600 per employee, or $217 monthly, to employee health insurance in 2005. Under H.R. 676, employers’ average cost would be $1,425 annually, or $119 a month. According to a study by economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Research and Policy, a family of three making $40,000 annually would spend approximately $1,900 yearly for coverage. The Post article quotes the National Coalition on Health Care as saying that the average private insurance premium cost this same family $11,000.

The Web site for Republicans for Single-Payer states that close to a third of every health-care dollar is spent on administrative costs, and calls single-payer “the conservative approach to providing access to health care with informed choice of private providers.”

Call’s recent presentation pointed to a 2001 analysis by Health Affairs that showed 35 percent of drug companies’ costs going to advertising and marketing. He said 47 percent of the cost of workers’ compensation goes for medical payments that would be covered by the new program, thus saving employers even more.

The USNHI program would be funded through a payroll tax on employers and employees of 3.3 percent each, added to the 1.45 percent payroll tax each pays now, totaling 4.75 percent each. The top 5 percent of income earners, those earning $250,000 a year or more, would pay a 5 percent health tax and those at the top 1 percent would pay 10 percent. A small tax on stock and bond transactions amounting to one-third of 1 percent would also contribute to the USNHI program. Closing corporate tax loopholes and repealing the Bush tax cut for the highest income-earners would bring the estimated savings up to $56 billion.

With President-elect Obama’s emphasis on reforming the health-care system, Call said it’s important for citizens to express their preference for H.R. 676 as early and emphatically as possible.

“The thing that drives me is that a number of years ago I was diagnosed with cancer,” said Call. “I remember sitting in the doctor’s office and thinking, ‘If I can live with this I’m going to find a way to repay to society for my good fortune.’ This is the way.”

For information on H.R. 676, visit hr676.org. Call can be reached at midcoasthealthcarereform.org or by calling 596-7784.

This article appeared on VillageSoup.com.