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Michael Niemeyer: In support of RI Senate single payer bill

Don’t wait for it to happen to your family. Support S0233. Let’s cut out this inefficient and cruel system and move Rhode Island healthcare into the 21st century.

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Our country has endured a crisis in healthcare costs since the 1990s, and the most promising solution to that crisis is to establish a single-payer system, or Medicare for All. This week, the Rhode Island Senate will hear testimony on a promising single-payer bill: S0233Every Rhode Islander, with or without private insurance, stands to benefit massively from a single-payer healthcare system. 

My support for single-payer is personal. In 2020, my newborn daughter Maeve was diagnosed with a rare and deadly brain disease called lissencephaly. One insidious practice of private health insurers is “lemon dropping” – that is pushing out sick clients like my daughter onto public insurance so that they only have to “insure” healthy clients. With my daughter’s diagnosis, my family was about to learn about lemon dropping the hard way.

First, private insurance would not cover a genetic test to determine the cause of my daughter’s disease. Next, as my daughter’s developmental disabilities manifested, they would not pay for a chair to help her swallow her food. In the strangest case of all, the manufacturer of my daughter’s medicine offered to pay for whatever cost of the medicine that insurance would not pay for – only for my insurance company to block us from receiving financial assistance from a third party. They treated my baby girl like a bad statistic and it broke my heart to pieces.

After months of struggles, we managed to get my daughter on Medicaid. Suddenly and mercifully, the medical world opened up to us. But the lesson learned in the process was stark: I thought I had been paying for some future emergency through my insurance payments. Instead, my taxes proved a better investment for the medical emergency that visited us. My family’s thousands of dollars in private insurance payments were worthless the moment we actually needed insurance.

While I know change can be daunting, we need to change something about the skyrocketing cost of having private insurance in Rhode Island. Rhode Islanders pay higher premiums for their employer-sponsored healthcare coverage than residents of almost any other state. The average deductible for family coverage in 2020 was just under $8,500. Meanwhile, Rhode Island already has some of the best public insurance in the country. The reality is that the vast majority of families would save thousands of dollars a year under a single-payer system.

Don’t wait for it to happen to your family. Support S0233. Let’s cut out this inefficient and cruel system and move Rhode Island healthcare into the 21st century.