Editorial, Opinion

STAFF EDIT: Boosting health care

After a year of implementation, the Massachusetts universal health care coverage law has succeeded in its basic goal of providing more health care coverage for underserved residents and represents a progressive step toward the long-anticipated idea of universal health care. Though there are several problems yet to be worked out, the successes and failures of Massachusetts’ health care programs can certainly serve as a blueprint for future programs nationwide.

The Massachusetts health care reform law, passed April 2006, mandated that nearly every Bay Stater obtain health insurance and provided subsidies for the lowest income earners in the state. It also created the ‘Commonwealth Connector,’ a public authority designed to help individuals find health insurance policies more smoothly. The reform law has been credited with bringing health insurance to 439,000 more Bay Staters since its launch in June 2006, according to an Aug. 20 Boston Globe article.

And for the most part, problems with the new laws have been limited and controllable. Small businesses were most expected to be negatively affected by the reforms because the law mandated that they begin offering health insurance plans for its employees. Employers initially lamented the anticipated additional costs, but according to a Nov. 3 Globe report, only 29 percent of Massachusetts companies considered the health care law a ‘financial burden’ ‘-‘- down from 36 percent in the law’s first year.

But problems in other areas ‘-‘- such as budgetary strains, bureaucratic red tape and the inundation of health care providers with new patients ‘-‘- have yet to be resolved. Undoubtedly, the new reforms place a greater financial burden on the state, which is already dealing with a growing fiscal crisis. Questions have even arisen as to the viability of the reforms in the immediate future, as the commonwealth scrambles to find funding and cut costs. Small family practices and individual doctors are also having trouble keeping up with burgeoning patient populations, according to a April 5 New York Times article.

Some point to clinical redundancies, excessive paperwork and corruption as inherent wastes associated with the health care industry that will only be exacerbated by the inclusion of government. But for all its problems, Massachusetts’ experiment in health care reform has exceeded expectations. As the economy continues its downward spiral, affordability will undoubtedly become the top issue for individuals looking to protect their health and the health of their families. Other states, and even the federal government should look to Massachusetts’ accomplishments and failures as a case example of how to proceed with health care reform in the future. Whether the solution is state-by-state legislation or nationwide coverage, the Massachusetts venture in universal health care should serve as both textbook and benchmark.

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