Photo Gallery | Photos from Don Berwick's campaign stop in Berkshires

RELATED | VIDEO: Don Berwick is a Democratic candidate for Massachusetts Governor.

PITTSFIELD -- Donald M. Berwick believes a single-payer health care system is "the conversation" in the state gubernatorial race, and that he would implement such an initiative in Massachusetts if elected.

"We have the authority to do it," said Berwick, 67, one of the three candidates who will face each other in the Democratic Party primary for governor on Sept. 9.

Berwick finished a close third behind state Attorney General and North Adams native Martha Coakley in the state Democratic convention two weeks ago. Coakley placed a distant second to state Treasurer Steven Grossman.

A pediatrician and former health care executive, Berwick is the only one of those three who has publicly supported the state's adoption of a government-funded health care system, which is often referred to as the single-payer system.

In a radio debate between the three candidates in Boston last week, Grossman said he was ready to "lead a conversation" around the state on a single-payer system, while Coakley said Massachusetts was not ready to adopt such an initiative.

Berwick, who helped build the federal health care law when he briefly served as the head of Medicare and Medicaid under President Barack Obama, said the Affordable Care Act allows states to change the way they pay for health care as long as the costs don't rise and the quality either remains the same or becomes better.

"Single-payer health care would reduce costs dramatically," said Berwick, in a recent meeting with The Eagle's editorial board.

"It would give us the ability to stand up for patients, speak out on their behalf and add jobs because health care costs are probably the major hindrance in the commonwealth for job extension and growth in business," he said. "At least, that's what business leaders tell me."

Berwick expects that a single-payer health care system would be resisted by insurance providers.

"There are a lot of stakeholders invested in the status quo," Berwick said. "But change is change, and leadership requires a need for change and making a case to the public and building a coalition that allows this to succeed."

On another health-related issue, Berwick referred to heroin and opiod abuse "as a serious problem" that's an issue "no matter what city or area I go to."

Berwick said there needs to be "better control" of prescription medications in Massachusetts, and an understanding of the "underlying generators" of addiction.

"I see a strong relationship between the control of the narcotics problem and a focus on poverty, social disparities and economic stress," he said.

The state also needs to do a better job of finding rehabilitation facilities for addicts instead of placing them in the jail system.

"We have 24,000 people in prison in Massachusetts, and half of them don't belong there," he said. "They're people with mental illness and lots of substance abuse, and we don't have the alternatives and options that would really allow people to get back on the road to recovery instead of [being in] a jail cell."

Berwick said he supports an increase in the minimum wage, but believes eventually bumping the number up to $11 per hour "doesn't go far enough."

"I think we should be headed for a living wage," he said. "Seattle is headed for $15 an hour; they're no fools. They understand that money that feeds into the hands of workers circulates.

"I'm for making sure people have money to work with," he said. "Even $11 an hour is just above the poverty line for a family of four."

Berwick is also the only one of the three Democratic Party candidates who is opposed to placing casinos in Massachusetts.

"They hurt small businesses, and small businesses close," Berwick said. "There's a study in Buffalo that shows one job is lost per slot machine.

"We have an addiction problem and a mental health system that is underfunded and undersupported," Berwick said. "Why would we want to add a gambling addiction to that problem?"

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6224.