Medicaid chief: Single payer may be better than ‘devil-may-be’ market

By Kyle Cheney
Boston Herald
February 20, 2011

A senior Patrick administration health care official said Friday that a single payer system may work more effectively and efficiently than Massachusetts’s existing insurance market, a high-profile endorsement that raised eyebrows at a legislative hearing.

“I like the market, but the more and more I stay in it, the more and more I think that maybe a single payer would be better,” said Terry Dougherty, director of MassHealth – the state-run Medicaid plan that insures nearly 1.3 million Massachusetts residents – when lawmakers asked for his “personal view” on a single payer system.

Dougherty noted that MassHealth, by far the largest program in state government, spends just 1.5 percent of its $10-billion-a-year budget on administrative costs – compared to about 9.5 percent by the private market, according to studies by the state Division of Health Care Finance and Policy. That figure won plaudits from several lawmakers on the panel, including some who have supported implementing a statewide single payer system.

After his remarks, Dougherty told the News Service that he’s learned to appreciate “elements of single payer” during his 30 years in health care.

“It’s got to be better than this devil-may-be marketplace,” he said. “We don’t build big buildings. We don’t have high salaries. We don’t have a lot of marketing, which makes, to some extent, some of the things that we do easier and less costly than some things that happen in the marketplace. Overall, my point is, we have individuals who work in state government in MassHealth … who are just as smart, just as tactile, just as creative as people who work in the private sector, but they work for a lot less money.”


By Don McCanne, MD

It is no surprise that so many individuals are suggesting that we may be heading toward a single payer system. It is becoming more obvious that the federal reform effort and the Massachusetts plan on which it was based have proven to be the most expensive model of reform while falling short on the goals of universality, efficiency and equity, as was predicted by those of us at PNHP and others. But these words from Terry Dougherty, director of the Medicaid program for Massachusetts, are of paramount significance since he has first hand experience with one of the cornerstones of reform – expansion of the Medicaid program.

When someone who really knows what we’re actually doing within this expensive, dysfunctional model of reform says that single payer has “got to be better,” we should listen. Listen, and then act.

Re-posted with permission from