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Regunberg and Calkin introduce Medicare-for-All legislation



Legislation proposing a “Medicare-for-all” style program (also known as “single payer”), that would replace multiple “middlemen” insurers with a single coverage provider, was launched at a press conference today at the Rhode Island State House. The plan is called the Rhode Island Comprehensive Health Insurance Program (RICHIP)

“This legislation is about guaranteeing healthcare as a fundamental human right for every Rhode Islander, and creating a more efficient system for us all,” said Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence) who introduced the bill in the House. “We know that rising health care costs hurt our families, overburden employers and take up a disproportionate share of state spending. Single-payer creates savings at every level, reduces costs for businesses, and ensures all our neighbors have the coverage they need.”

Providence resident Katherine Ahlquist was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer shortly after finding medical coverage under Obamacare. Without such coverage, Katherine would have died. Now that coverage is under threat from the Trump administration. “Today, I live in fear every time I go to the doctor,” said Ahlquist, “not just because of my cancer, but because I’m terrified that the current administration will do away with my access to health care. This is why it is important to me that Rhode Island pass a single-payer/Medicare-for-All bill.”

Full disclosure: This reporter and Katherine Ahlquist are married.

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Shawna Rihani is a manager at Rihani International, a Cranston based medical export company. “Health insurance premiums are often our greatest non-payroll expense, depending on the sales that year. This unfortunate fact is especially punishing for entrepreneurs.

“The current employer based system is a trap,” said Rihani. She noted that workers often keep jobs just for the insurance, not for pay. A health care system not tied to employment would “substantially strengthen the workforce in Rhode Island.” Those working just for healthcare would leave their jobs, increasing employment opportunities.

“Currently, 47,000 Rhode Islanders are uninsured and many more are under-insured. Those who are fully insured face limited-provider networks and skyrocketing premiums, co–pays and deductibles,” said Senator Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick) who introduced the legislation in the Senate. “A single-payer system will ensure that every Rhode Islander has access to the health care they need when they need it. It will allow health care providers to focus on taking care of patients and not the administration required for insurance reimbursement. And it provides patients the security of knowing they can go to the doctor or hospital without getting hit with unexpected bills or bankruptcy when those costs pile up.”

“Canada’s single-payer program began in 1962, in the province of Saskatchewan, which is approximately the same size as Rhode Island. It was so successful, it became a national program within 10 years and continues to be successful today, with better outcomes and lower costs than the U.S.,” said Dr J Mark Ryan, chairman of the Rhode Island chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program. “Support for single-payer extends across the state and includes businesses, unions and community organizations. Rhode Island can lead the way to a better health care system in the United States.”

Reverend Brendan Curran, United Church of Christ pastor presented the moral dimension. “I want to ask our elected officials today: When you have the opportunity to vote on this legislation, are you going to vote to line the pockets of the CEOs of insurance companies, or are you going to do the practical, sensible and morally just thing, and uphold health car as a free and universal right for all rather than a luxury for the few?”

“The current climate in Washington, DC, has Americans very concerned about the future of our health care. Last year, over 700,000 bankruptcies were filed because of medical bills. Our maternal and childhood mortality rates are among the worst among developed countries. Yet we spend about twice as much money, per capita, on our health care system.,” said Daniela Abbott, a small-business owner and chairperson of Rhode Island Healthcare Access & Affordability Partnership (, a nonprofit organization recently formed to advocate for single-payer health care. “The threat of losing health insurance and the fear of unaffordable medical bills — for ourselves and our families — is one of the biggest deterrents to would-be entrepreneurs and small business owners.”

Teresa Tanzi and Susan Donovan

Aaron Regunberg

Jeanine Calkin

Katherine Ahlquist

Edith Ajello

J Mark Ryan

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Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.