Politics

Berwick pitches liberal agenda to business audience

Candidate for governor Don Berwick.
John Tlumacki/Globe staff
Candidate for governor Don Berwick.

It was more a symposium on progressive ideas and reducing medical costs than a standard campaign stop.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Donald M. Berwick came before a variety of business leaders at a breakfast today and made a forcefully wonkish case for his liberal vision: reducing and ending homelessness and poverty, reforming the criminal justice system so fewer people go to prison, single-payer health care, and more investment in government programs.

And, he insisted to an audience that didn’t seem totally receptive to his pitch, his progressive agenda would be boon for business.

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“The best job-creating strategy for the kind of Commonwealth we want to live in is the progressive agenda,” Berwick said.

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“The progressive agenda is an investment in people and investment in people is an investment in workforce and in customer base — and I can’t think of a better deal for the business community than the progressive agenda,” he told a few dozen people munching on breakfast at the University of Massachusetts Club on the 33rd floor of a building in downtown Boston.

Answering questions from moderator RD Sahl, a former journalist, Berwick emphasized what he said was his expertise in helping making health care organizations more effective and efficient, from England’s National Health Service to this country’s massive Medicaid and Medicare systems. He spoke repeatedly about saving money by reducing the waste inherent in many large medical systems.

One way to do that would be to transition the state to a single-payer system, Berwick said, which he likened to taking the T, flashing a CharlieCard for effect.

Berwick, a former administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said the current way medical payments work in the state is as if a commuter had to have a different form of payment for each stop in the MBTA network — a certain card to get on at Park Street, another form of payment required to board at Ashmont — and only sometimes knew the price when he or she boarded. He said the current medical payment system lacked consistency and transparency.

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Single-payer, he said, is like a CharlieCard: It’s “one route of entry into the system and everybody has it.”

He said it was not a government takeover of health care, rather the creation of an “articulate purchaser” who can press providers for more of what consumers need.

Berwick, who polls have found trailing his two Democratic rivals by a vast margin, declined to directly attack either Attorney General Martha Coakley or Treasurer Steven Grossman. Instead he focused on his vision.

Berwick, who often speaks in the mild tone of the one-time pediatrician that he is, got fired up talking about casino gaming in Massachusetts, which he opposes.

He said casinos “are predators on the poor” and while he acknowledged they may add jobs, Berwick said “they add minimum wage jobs if you’re lucky — $20,000 a year jobs — and then they close.”

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Voters are set to decide in November whether to repeal the state’s casino law.

At the forum, the first audience question came from David I. Begelfer, the CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts, the commercial real estate development association. He wondered how Berwick, if he is elected governor, was going to pay for all his policies, especially given the Legislature’s historical distaste for raising taxes and adding new fees.

Berwick, 67, did not offer many specifics, but said reforming health care will free up more money; good policies, including progressive ones, will beget more jobs; and more revenue, hundreds of billions of dollars, will result from closing loopholes and deductions.

In the hourlong session — sponsored by the public relations firm Denterlein, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and NAIOP Massachusetts — Berwick also touched briefly on some other issues.

Following the verdict in the probation trial, he said there is “too much corruption on Beacon Hill.” Berwick called for a plan to get Massachusetts off nuclear energy, calling local nuclear plants “not safe places.” And he voiced support for a proposal repeatedly put forward by Governor Deval Patrick, but never passed into law, that would limit people to buying one gun per month.

A pro-Grossman political action committee recently released an ad knocking Coakley for not supporting that proposed gun control provision.

As for the polls that show him far behind his Democratic opponents, Berwick predicted a late August surge before the Sept. 9 primary.

The most recent Boston Globe poll found Berwick garnering 5 percent of support among likely primary voters while Treasurer Steve Grossman got 18 percent and Attorney General Coakley received 46 percent support.

Also running for to succeed Governor Deval Patrick, who is not running for a third term, are two Republicans and three independent candidates.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.