Universal health care in Massachusetts to save costs over time

Universal health care and insuring more Massachusetts residents would ultimately drive health care costs down over time, a top Massachusetts health care official said at Harvard University yesterday.

Jon Kingsdale, executive director of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, said Massachusetts spends twice as much on health care than education, and in recent years health care costs have increased annually and cost containment is the No. 1 challenge.

The Connector Authority helps Massachusetts residents meet the requirement that they have some form of health insurance. Kingsdale said the Connector Authority has put 350,000 previously uninsured residents onto health care plans and has signed up 99 percent of the previously uninsured.

“We get criticized if we do not sign everyone up,” he said.

About 67 percent of the uninsured are men in their 30s and 40s, and 53 percent are between 19 and 34, Kingsdale said. Commonwealth Connector launched Commonwealth Care to help Massachusetts residents who cannot afford health insurance to comply with legal requirements.

To be eligible, low-income Massachusetts residents must be U.S. citizens or legal aliens, be older than 19 and uninsured. As of December, Commonwealth Care covered 160,000 formerly uninsured adults, he said.

Harvard University Social Sciences Dean David Cutler said health care is a federal responsibility.

“State by state we could build momentum and could make a possible change in federal government,” Cutler said. “Massachusetts will lead the change nationally.”

Under Massachusetts law, adults who do not get health insurance will be fined $912 and lose the income tax exemption for having health insurance. Those who refuse to get health insurance will be penalized and people who earn less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level will not face penalty.

Cutler said health care reform efforts have been worthwhile so far.

Harvard University sophomore Bryan Dunmire said he does not think it’s the government’s responsibility to force health insurance on people.

“If they want to help people buy it, fine, but a law forcing people who may or may not have reasons for buying or not buying health insurance shouldn’t be controlled by the government,” he said.

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