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PA Group: Jury Out On Whether Specter Jump To Dems Will Help Single Payer Health Care Initiative

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May 4, 2009

Harrisburg, PA - U.S. Senator Arlen Specter's leap from Republican to Democratic Party may provide a filibuster-proof supermajority for Senate Democrats, but many are wondering when his independent streak will show, especially in terms of healthcare.

While Specter is called 'fiercely independent' by some on Capital Hill, Pennsylvania advocates of a comprehensive, single-payer health insurance system are hoping he'll their side of the issue more clearly now that he's switched parties.

Chuck Pennacchio, executive director of Health Care for All Pennsylvanians, says Specter hasn't supported the kind of measure his group wants - publicly funded, privately delivered, and one that removes insurance companies from the equation.

"In terms of the healthcare issue focused here in Pennsylvania, working to create a health-care-for-all system, Arlen Specter remains the same challenge he did before he was a Democrat."

Opponents of a single-payer system have argued that it will lead to higher costs and diminished care. But Pennacchio hopes the party switch will give groups like his an opportunity to enlighten Specter on the dollars and cents of the single-payer plan.

"It's going to take an effort to get in front of him and truly educate him as to the opportunity that exists here in Pennsylvania with our statewide campaign. We'll do what we have to do, to apply pressure and get the dialogue around single-payer integral to the Democratic Senate primary in 2010."

Specter changed parties to avoid a tough Republican primary next year, although Pennacchio believes he still may have opponents within his new party. Specter is currently backing a bill introduced by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a fellow Democrat. It moves away from employer-paid healthcare to a system in which individuals buy their own insurance and premiums would be deducted from a worker's paycheck.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA