Since its inception, in 2004, PDA has devoted itself to transforming the US healthcare and establishing a single payer system. We have partnered with John Conyers and the Progressive Caucus and supported this legislation (HR676) for as long as we have existed. Here in western Mass we have a special responsibility because our Congressman, Democrat Richard Neal (MA, CD-1), is the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee and his voice in endorsing HR676 would carry a lot of weight. With this in mind, we, in western Mass have taken as a special challenge to move Congressman Neal to support this legislation. It is an embarrassment that while our Senators, Markey and Warren, have signed on to Bernie Sanders’ single payer bill, just three Mass members of Congress are cosigners of HR 676: McGovern, Clark and Capuano.

At a meeting with Congressman Neal about a year ago (our third or fourth about single payer), the Congressman said “Convince me” as we were leaving the room. Kelley Johnson, a member of our local chapter has taken this as a personal challenge. Kelley has been going to Neal’s office each month for several years and has developed a good relationship with the Congressman’s staff. He has been able to schedule meetings with staff and the Congressman on a regular basis. In August, he and I joined Andrea Miller (People Demanding Action) and a doctor from NY and met with Neal’s assistant chief of staff (Elizabeth O’Hara) in charge of health policy at the DC office to discuss single payer. It was a good discussion and we left Ms O’Hara with a copy of “Fix-it” and a mutual agreement to keep the discussion going.
This second meeting was held in Neal’s Springfield office and was attended by Representative Neal as well as Elizabeth O’Hara and Neal’s aide Margaret Boyle. PDA assembled a team of eight individuals:

Jerry Friedman – Economics Professor at UMass Amherst and a consultant to many, including Bernie, on how single payer could be structured and paid for.
Jackie Wolf – Co-Chair of Mass-Care and a leading advocate for Single Payer Healthcare for many years.
Ben Day – Executive Director – Healthcare-Now
Fiore Grassetti – President of Pioneer Valley Central Labor Council
Stan Shapshay M.D. – Practicing Physician and Single Payer Advocate
Russell Freedman – MA State coordinator for PDA
Kelley Johnson – Congressional Outreach Coordinator – Western MA Chapter PDA

We had a spirited conversation and Neal expressed his first responsibility of defending the Affordable Care Act, and concern for the cost of single payer. When all was said and done Neal, while not agreeing to sign on to HR676, did say that if it came up for a vote he would not vote against it, that he would support lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 55 and would support a public option. While we have not moved Neal as far as we want to, the discussion was cordial and we all agreed to keep talking.

We will be scheduling follow up meetings in the near future to provide more voices and suggestions regarding how to move forward. Rep Neal is most interested in How it will work and how it will be financed and asked for us to provide as much of this kind of information as possible. Jerry Friedman will be putting a package of information together and Jackie wolf will be submitting the slide show used by her organization for presentations to a broad range of civic organizations which have little knowledge or understanding of Medicare for All and it’s benefits. PDA, aside from the monthly letter drops, will continue to provide pertinent articles to the office on a regular basis. We see this meeting as a step along the road. We are not at our destination, but we are not done, either. Onward!

Russell Freedman and Kelley Johnson