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Editorial & Opinion

We must fix our broken system, and institute single-payer healthcare in our state…



We must end this broken system, now. Single-payer healthcare is the only ethical alternative. It covers everyone, covers everything, and costs less money.

More than ever before, Rhode Islanders are being forced to confront the outstanding cost of medical care in our state. COVID-19 has hit many of us hard, saddling us with medical bills that seem impossible to pay. It’s time the Rhode Island General Assembly addresses this public health crisis. We must fix our broken system, and institute single-payer healthcare in our state.

In February, before we were even hit by COVID-19, Senators Bell, Euer, Cano, Quezada, and Ciccone attempted to address our broken Medicaid system. Senate Resolution No. 2370 requested an audit to see if the privatization of Rhode Island’s Medicaid program costs the state more money than it saves. As these senators pointed out, 60% of our Medicaid budget goes to private health insurance companies, which are meant to manage our state’s Medicaid programs. That’s $1.7 billion. And as the resolution explains, such an overpayment to private health insurers generally doesn’t save states money — it costs them a lot more. When Connecticut stopped privatizing management of Medicaid in 2010, the state saved hundreds of millions of dollars.

More importantly, this distribution of our Medicaid budget leaves the most vulnerable Rhode Islanders behind. Those covered by Medicaid – nursing home residents, people with disabilities, foster children, and so many others – need those funds far more than private insurance companies do.

But despite the evidence that privatized management of Medicaid hurts Rhode Islanders, the resolution was not passed.

The General Assembly could, and should, return to a fully public Medicaid system. It wouldn’t solve all of our problems; a better allocation of Medicaid resources would still leave an unacceptable number of Rhode Islanders uninsured. More than 40,000 Rhode Islanders lack health insurance, and that number is growing rapidly as this virus forces businesses to lay off their employees. But what it would do, in addition to saving the state money and providing better coverage to those on Medicaid, is take us one step closer to the actual solution: implementing single-payer healthcare.

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Single-payer healthcare is an investment in every Rhode Islander. It guarantees coverage for the unemployed. It uplifts small businesses: without the huge cost of providing health insurance to employees, employers would have more money to improve their products, compete with similar businesses, and pay their workers higher wages. It saves money for low- and middle-income folk, since taxes would only be raised on the super-rich to cover its cost. It protects the African-American, Hispanic, and Indigenous communities that are routinely denied coverage under our current system. And it lowers prescription drug costs, so individual Rhode Islanders pay less for the same medication.

In short, single-payer healthcare is good for Rhode Island. We already know how this virus discriminates: black and brown people are affected disproportionately, dying at an alarmingly higher rate than their white neighbors. Low-income folks who can’t afford to stop working are put at a higher risk of exposure every day, just for trying to make ends meet. Our healthcare system needs to combat this problem, not contribute to it. And if we’d made these changes when we should have, years ago, we would likely be seeing much less devastation through this crisis.

We must end this broken system, now. Single-payer healthcare is the only ethical alternative. It covers everyone, covers everything, and costs less money. And the only way we can get it is through new leadership that is ready to pass resolutions like the one from February, and ready to prioritize Rhode Islanders over profitable ties to private companies.

We, Lenny Cioe and Jennifer Rourke, promise to fight for single-payer healthcare in Rhode Island. All we need is your vote.

About the Author

Lenny Cioe is a candidate for State Senate in SD-4, and Jennifer Rourke is a candidate for State Senate in SD-29. Both are Democrats and members of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative.