- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Democratic candidate for governor Don Berwick is making inroads with some liberal groups in part because of his embrace of a universal health care system for Massachusetts.

Berwick won the backing Wednesday of Progressive Massachusetts, a group that has pushed ballot questions to raise the minimum wage and create a statewide earned sick time policy. The group also supports a universal health care system for the state.

While other Democratic hopefuls support a minimum wage hike and earned sick time, Berwick is the only candidate to make the so-called single payer option a central part of his platform.

The state’s landmark 2006 health care law dramatically expanded health care and, despite its botched health care website, Massachusetts still has the higher percentage of insured residents in the country.

But the system, which relies on expanding the existing market-based health care model, falls short of the universal coverage envisioned by Berwick and liberals.

Don is the most progressive candidate in the race with a vision for the commonwealth that includes single payer health care,” said Ben Wright, the group’s executive director.

Berwick, who headed the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for 17 months, has praised the 2006 Massachusetts law and the 2010 federal law that it inspired.

But he said the state and the country can do better by essentially expanding Medicare, which covers the elderly, to include all residents regardless of age.

Berwick - one of five Democrats hoping to succeed Gov. Deval Patrick - will need the support of organizations like Wright’s to help close a fundraising gap and ensure he receives the 15 percent of delegates at next month’s convention needed to land a spot on November’s primary ballot.

As of May 15, Berwick had $183,778 in his campaign account compared to the two top Democratic candidates for governor- state Treasurer Steve Grossman with $906,545 and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley with $453,823.

Other Democratic candidates for governor include Juliette Kayyem, who had $189,437 in her account and Joseph Avellone, with $70,947.

The endorsement came as Berwick dropped off nearly 16,000 certified nomination signatures to the state secretary’s office. The signatures are also needed to secure a spot on the ballot.

Also Wednesday, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teacher union, declined to endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary.

The group, one of the state’s most powerful unions, said it “stands ready to back” the Democratic primary winner over Charlie Baker or Mark Fisher, the GOP hopefuls.

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