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MichUHCAN Newsletter for December, 2000

Massachusetts Initiative for Universal Health Care Gets 48 %

In Massachusetts this fall, a major health care referendum was on the statewide ballot. Known as Question 5, the proposal would have required the state to guarantee, by July 2002, affordable health care for everyone in Massachusetts. Question 5 also would have protected patients' rights within HMOs, mandated that 90% of every health care dollar be spent on patient care, and prevented for-profit takeovers of nonprofit health care institutions.

The initiative lost some of its early institutional supporters when the state legislature passed a law with similar patients' rights provisions. In exchange for the governor's backing on that law, some organizations withdrew support for Question 5. Supporters said Question 5 was still needed to gain universal access.

Question 5 lost in a close vote. Below is a report from a Massachusetts activist who backed the initiative.

HMOs Steamroller Health Care for All

by Sandy Eaton, RN

The corporate campaign against Question 5 raised and spent $5 million, mostly from "not-for-profit" HMOs Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Harvard/Pilgrim, Tufts, and Fallon - outspending by 100 to 1 the progressive coalition made up of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the League of Women Voters, the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care, SEIU Local 509 [representing state workers], Physicians for a National Health Program, the National Association of Social Workers, the Consortium for Psychotherapy, the Springfield NAACP and many, many other grassroots groups and individuals.

Nevertheless, the initiative for fundamental health care reform garnered 48% of the vote on November 7th, despite over a month of intense TV and radio advertising, full of lies and fear-mongering. There is a recount scheduled for the City of Boston.

Also on election day, a public policy question advocating single-payer universal health care-placed on the ballot in one state senatorial and two state representative districts by the Massachusetts Labor Party-passed two to one.

The pressure for fundamental change will continue.

[Sandy Eaton is a staff nurse at Quincy Medical Center and a member of the Massachusetts Nurses Association Board.]

For more information, check the following web sites:




No Detroit Chapter Meeting this month.

Next meeting: Thursday, January 4

Happy Holidays!

Meetings Change

The Detroit Chapter of MichUHCAN is changing its schedule for monthly meetings. In 2001, we'll hold planning sessions every-other month. In alternate months we'll have guest speakers and educational meetings. The January meeting (Thursday, January 4th) will be a planning meeting to assess our work on U2K and talk about next steps.

Meetings will still be held on the first Thursday of each month, at the First United Methodist Church of Berkley.

Oakland County Welfare Rights Sees Holes in Health Care Safety Net

In November, the Detroit Chapter hosted a speaker from the Oakland County Welfare Rights Organization. Margarite Kowaleski spoke about that organization's experience helping people who qualify for Medicaid or for "transitional benefits." Kowaleski said a problem for Michigan Medicaid is that the number of participating HMOs has dropped sharply. Most low-income Medicaid recipients must be in an HMO, by state mandate. But the number of participating HMOs has dropped to six or seven, from 15 five years ago. As people leave the welfare rolls under welfare "reform," they're eligible for a transitional program known as TMA+. Only 600 people statewide, said Kowaleski, were using this benefit as of last December. Cost may be a factor: TMA+ costs $50 a month, rising to $100 a month after two years. Kowaleski pointed out that one effect of the state's CHIP program for covering uninsured children was finding children that were already eligible for Medicaid. In the beginning, half of the CHIP applicants in Michigan were found to be eligible for Medicaid. (The CHIP application, said Kowaleski, is much easier than the paperwork required for Medicaid.) The Oakland County Welfare Rights Organization is a grass roots group of low income Oakland County residents working to insure the rights of those who need public assistance. The Friends of OCWRO is a support group of county residents who are not low income, but share the goals and work of the organization. For more information: 248-334-8117.

News Bits

A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found premiums for employer-provided insurance rose 8.3% between Spring 1999 and Spring 2000. Still, the percentage of small employers (3-199 workers) offering insurance increased from 54% in 1998 to 67% in 2000. (99% of larger employers offer health insurance.)

The larger number of employers offering insurance did not stop the growth in the number of uninsured, now above 44 million.

Experts estimate that the drug industry as a whole spends $8,000 to $13,000 per physician each year to promote their wares. It seems to work: An analysis published in January in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that physicians who attend more meetings with pharmaceutical companies also tend to prescribe those name brands more often, avoiding generics.

A Washington state clinic, concerned about drug companies' influence, banned free drug samples and visits from pharmaceutical sales reps. The clinic's drug costs decreased after the change.

Statewide MichUHCAN meets the first Friday of every month at 10:00 AM, at the Livingston County Courthouse in Howell. Howell is located just north of I-96 between Lansing and Detroit, a bit closer to Lansing. For more information on these meetings, phone Margie Mitchell (248-477-7911).