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Candidate For Congress Alex Morse Holds Health-Care Town Hall
By Jeff Snoonian, iBerkshires Correspondent
01:10AM / Monday, October 28, 2019
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Holyoke Mayor and candidate for congress Alex Morse talks with supporters Thursday night at the UNO community Center.


Alex Morse listens to health-care concerns from North Berkshire residents.
 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Since announcing his candidacy for the 1st Congressional District seat in July, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse has been reaching out to every corner of the sprawling region to hear voter concerns. Thursday night he was at the UNO Community Center for a health-care town hall discussion. 
 
The progressive Democrat sees inadequate health care as one of the biggest issues in the country and wants to radically change the system. It's apparent how he got elected mayor at 22 years of age when he speaks on the subject of changing healthcare. His enthusiasm is palpable. It better be when you are taking on a 30-year incumbent.
 
"I'm a strong supporter of a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system. I believe it's the only way to provide universal coverage that's affordable and accessible to every person no matter where you live. I think it's really important we have a system that's actually rooted in equity," he said. "Anyone in elected office should believe that health care is a human right. People here in the district are losing their homes, losing their livelihoods, the equity they've built their entire lives if they get sick."
 
The four-term mayor is challenging Richard Neal, now chairman of the powerful Ways & Means Committee. Neal first won election in 1989 in the 2nd Mass after serving six years as mayor of Springfield. When Massachusetts lost a congressional seat after the 2010 Census, Neal's territory was merged with the 1st Mass and he won the seat when then U.S. Rep. John Olver decided to retire.
 
Morse was blunt when describing the contrasts between his campaign and Neal's.
 
"Throughout this campaign we are not taking a single dime of corporate PAC money because I never want people in this room to wonder why I make a particular vote or make a decision. Our congressman now is one of the top recipients of pharmaceutical dollars. The third highest recipient in Congress after two Republicans. It no doubt influences his view on health care," he said  "The fact that we have a member of Congress who continues to support the status quo system that allows for a third-party, pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies, to make decisions instead of our doctors and patients making those decisions, I think that's incredibly dangerous."
 
Barbara Pearson of the organization Western Mass Medicare For All explained an important difference between Medicare and the proposed Medicare For All plan.
 
"People leave off the word 'improved.' It's improved Medicare-for-all. People say 'Medicare only pays doctors so much' or 'it only pays 80 percent'. Improved Medicare For All plans would cover 100 percent," she said. "And they cover dental and mental health and eyes. There are no co-pays."
 
Morse thinks municipalities might be the biggest winners under a Medicare-for-all system. Not just financially but also saving the headache of constantly shopping for the lowest price.
 
"As mayor over the past eight years, I've had to negotiate with our public-sector unions and when I started we had Health New England, then we had Blue Cross Blue Shield, then we had Cigna, then back to Health New England. Just that disruption alone [could be avoided]," he said. "We pay $12-13 million a year in health insurance out of a $125 million budget. Every year we look at a 10-15 percent premium increase. It's not because our employees have suddenly gotten sicker ... it's frankly because the insurance companies just didn't make enough money the year before and they need to make up for any losses. 
 
"In little Leyden, a small hilltown near Greenfield, they would save upwards of $1 million dollars a year under a Medicare-for-all system. Towns could say 'we just don't need to raise as much money in taxes' or you could put the money saved into infrastructure, stabilization fund, public education."
 
Morse believes the public sector wouldn't be the only beneficiary of Medicare-for-all. He thinks the simpler, cheaper, easier to understand system will inspire entrepreneurship and incentivize small-business owners to invest in people.
 
"We've had a big push in Holyoke for entrepreneurship. So many people want to start their own business and build wealth for themselves and not be dependent on another company or a large corporation. The number one impediment, psychologically and in reality, is 'I'm not going to be able to start my small business because I can't afford health insurance,' " he said. "There is an estimate of 2.1 million new jobs created in the country as a result of moving toward a Medicare-for-all system."
 
Morse heard several cases of typical health-care problems from the crowd. One North Adams resident had to go to Greenfield to find a plan-approved dentist for a root canal. He also bemoaned the revolving door of primary-care physicians and the difficulty in finding open space in the ones that are here. Most in attendance had issues with the level of coverage offered at the North Adams branch of Berkshire Medical Center. They cited visits to North Adams that ended in an additional and inevitable ride to the main campus in Pittsfield.They mentioned the lack of beds in rehab facilities as a contributing factor in the opioid crisis.
 
Morse sees these shortfalls as reasons he sees a lot of momentum growing for the Medicare-for-all movement. 
 
"When you poll Americans nationally about Medicare-for-all, the majority of Republicans and the majority of Democrats are in favor. Then when they find out you can actually keep your doctor and you have more choice ... the government isn't going to tell you what doctor you need to go to or what hospital you need to go to, support for Medicare-for-all goes up even further," he said. "There are always going to be a lot of talking points, a lot of scare tactics and I think it's important for folks in favor of Medicare-for-all to talk about what it actually means for people." 
 
Morse's next health-care town hall will be in Holyoke on Monday at the Gateway Arts Center.
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