Keystone State legislator ramps up single-payer health care struggle
David Drexler / Flickr (CC)

PHILADELPHIA – State Rep. Pamela DeLissio, D-Montgomery/Phila., does not mince words: “A system driven by insurance companies will never meet the needs of citizens. It will meet the needs of insurance companies.”

When she made this blunt statement, DeLissio was in a familiar setting – a town meeting with her constituents in the Roxborough section of the city. She has held her seat for seven years and during that time has held regular such events; this was her sixty-sixth.

The fifty people in attendance had come to ask questions and hear her explain why she planned to introduce House Bill 1688 during the current legislative session. The proposed law aims to bring single-payer health care to Pennsylvania.

The audience included those who had come to tell about their own urgent healthcare issues, such as a woman who shared details of her family’s struggle to pay for the services needed for her three-year-old son with special needs. Others came to find out what services the proposed bill would actually cover, or to offer input on its content.

DeLissio took time to explain the terms that are sometimes used or confused by some during debates about health care. She pointed out that the proposed legislation for single-payer would, in effect, establish a “Medicare for All” system in the Keystone State. Health care would be publicly funded but privately delivered. It would not be the same as a national health care plan as currently exists in many other countries; nevertheless the aim would be to cover everyone.

She also emphasized that the movement for a single-payer plan in Pennsylvania has a history going back to the early 2000s and mentioned other bills that had been introduced at that time. During the early years of the Obama administration, for instance, then-Gov. Ed Rendell said that he would sign single-payer legislation if it reached his desk. The Republican-dominated legislature never got it there.

Activists from Healthcare for All Pennsylvania were also in the audience and contributed to the discussion, urging people to carry the single-payer message to as wide an audience as possible.

Although it was the primary focus of the meeting, health care was not the only issue that DeLissio addressed. She included in her opening remarks the budget crisis that the legislature has not squarely faced.

State Rep. Pamela DiLissio. | Ben Sears / PW

She is the co-sponsor, along with Republican legislators, of a bill that would place a tax on the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region. Such legislation is needed to fill a $2 billion gap in the state budget for the next fiscal year. The legislation has the support of Gov. Tom Wolf, and has recently passed the Senate. It has been given a good chance to pass in the House if it were introduced.

However,Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai, who apparently fears losing support from business circles opposed to corporate taxes, has so far clung to his “no new taxes” position and has refused to bring any proposed shale tax bills to the floor. Pennsylvania remains the only state that does not tax the extraction of shale gas.


Ben Sears
Ben Sears

Ben Sears is a retired teacher and AFT member in Philadelphia. He is the author, as John Bennett Sears, of the book "The Electrical Unions and the Cold War" (International Publishers 2019).