Wednesday, December 16, 2009

PA Senate Hearing Single Payer Health Insurance Be Wary

Single-payer health insurance hearing set
By Deb Erdley
Wednesday, December 16, 2009

While Congress haggles over the fine points of a national health-care bill, a Pennsylvania coalition of single-payer insurance advocates will air arguments today for a sweeping state bill they say could trump Washington's efforts.

The state Senate Banking and Insurance Committee will hear testimony in Harrisburg on a bill that would finance a single-payer health insurance for all Pennsylvanians through a 3 percent income tax.

Joe Pittman, an aide to Republican Sen. Don White of Indiana, who chairs the committee, said opponents and advocates will offer testimony at the hearing.

Although congressional debate over health care has grabbed headlines for a year, lawmakers in several states, including Pennsylvania, California, Maryland and Maine, have introduced state-based single-payer health-care bills.

Mary Pat Donegan, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvanians United for Single Payer Health Care, a group that began promoting such programs in Pittsburgh four years ago, said today's Senate hearing is a milestone.

"This is the first state Senate hearing in the nation on single-payer health insurance," she said, adding that conservative Republicans including a family practice and small business owner from central Pennsylvania are among those who will testify in support of the bill.

Kevin Shivers, Pennsylvania director of the National Federation of Independent Business Owners, a coalition of 13,000 small business owners in Pennsylvania, said his members consider health insurance costs a priority.

"Some of my members are paying $1,500 a month to cover an employee and family. As one member told me, 'Kevin, that's a mortgage payment,' " Shivers said.

Even so, Shivers planned to testify in opposition to the bill.

"Our members are concerned about two issues -- will it increase the cost for business, and will it decrease the cost of insurance? And in both cases, for small business, it fails to deliver," Shivers said.

He said his members believe reform efforts must hinge on tort reform to throw out "junk" malpractice lawsuits, provide a mandate-free low-cost insurance option, and allow small businesses to band together across state lines to bargain for reduced-cost coverage.

"This legislation just doesn't get it," Shivers said.

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