Andrea Campbell Rips Fellow Democrat Over Medicare For All In Massachusetts Attorney General Debate

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Is Quentin Palfrey overpromising in his campaign for attorney general?

Former Boston city councilor Andrea Campbell says so.

Palfrey, who was the Democratic Party’s nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018, went after Campbell for policy disagreements in a GBH News debate last week that also featured Brookline labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan.

One of the biggest disagreements between the two candidates is over Medicare for All. Palfrey, who served as the Health Care Division chief in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office from 2007 to 2009, when Martha Coakley was attorney general, is running on a platform that supports Medicare for All at the state level. Meanwhile, Campbell said it’s wrong for Palfrey to run a campaign making promises he cannot and would not keep.

Medicare-for-all is a proposed single-payer health care system that would provide all Americans a healthcare plan similiar to Medicare. Supporters argue that health care is a human right and that a single-payer system is the best way to ensure that everyone has access to health care. Critics decry the cost, oppose abolishing private insurance, and distrust the government to run such a large program. 

This point of contention came up when debate moderator Jim Braude asked Palfrey what he would do, if elected, to combat the impact of systemic racism in Massachusetts. 

Palfrey initially didn’t give a direct answer.  

“This is something that pervades all of our society and all of the work of the attorney general’s office. I was the chief of the health care division in the AG office. I was the AG’s representative on the Racial Disparities Council in the health care sector. We have huge disparities in the health care sector in terms of access to health care, outcomes, and population health.”

Braude then asked Palfrey what specifically he would do to combat systemic racism.

Palfrey used it as an opportunity to go after Campbell — the one black person in the debate.

“Well, I think that you have to stand up and take on those cases. You have to represent the people’s interests in a number of the health policy responsibilities. This is one of the reasons why I’m such a strong believer in Medicare for All, which is a difference with Andrea — because I think that everyone has access to health care as a human right,” Palfrey said.

Campbell responded by saying that a lack of a single-payer health care system isn’t the problem that Bay Staters face on health care. She added that if the country were to have a single-payer health care system, like Medicare for All, it wouldn’t happen at the state level. 

“So I think it’s a national issue,” Cambell said of single-payer health care. “I do not like to promise voters something we know we cannot deliver on. He’s talking about single payer. That’s not the issue in Massachusetts. We’re nearly unverisally covered with 98 percent of folks covered. Right now, the question in health care is around quality of care. It’s about cost. It’s about accessibility. I will be an AG that sits at a national table with AGs across the country to push for single payer.

“But right now, ask Vermont, it didn’t work,” she added. “I’m going to promise voters things I know I can actually deliver for them.”

As Campbell points out, Vermont tried, unsuccessfully, to implement single-payer health care last decade.

In 2014, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, devised a plan to achieve single-payer healthcare. Under Shumlin’s failed plan, state income tax would have increased by 9 percentage points and all employers would have had an 11.5-percentage-point payroll tax increase, as Vox points out.

Shumlin went on to support Presient Joe Biden in the 2020 Democratic primary over his more progressive primary challengers who supported single-payer health care; Biden strongly opposes single-payer health care, instead supporting a public option.

A public option is “a health insurance coverage program run by the state or federal government (although they can be administered by a private entity or private insurance company) and made available as an option alongside the existing private health insurance plans,” according to

Critics of a public option say it would destroy the private health insurance system by undercutting private health insurance plans and thereby making them uncompetitive. Supporters say that’s not the case. They say that it will allow the country to achieve universal health coverage while allowing people to keep their private insurance, if they wish. Proponents also say the public option could lower prices of private health insurance plans by introducing more competition to the insurance market. 

In Massachusetts, a state attorney general does not have the authority to enact single-payer health care. That would require a bill to be passed through the state legislature.

However, Palfrey includes his support of Medicare for All on his campaign web site.

“Quentin believes that healthcare should be about patients, not economics, and the AG must treat healthcare as a human right by leading the fight for universal access through Medicare-for-all,” Palfrey’s web site says. “Quentin will use the AG’s broad consumer protection and antitrust powers to hold healthcare corporations accountable and oversee nonprofit hospitals and insurers to make sure that they are acting in the best interest of the public.”

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Jay McMahon in the general election. With incumbent attorney general Maura Healey running for governor, state attorney general is an open seat race.


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