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"Commonwealth Care is Giving Hope and Saving Lives" by Jon Kingsdale

When Madelyn Rhenisch became the first person in Massachusetts to apply for the Commonwealth Care program, she was hopeful about what it could do for her and many others.

“I am so grateful and proud I live in Massachusetts, which has taken this step and made this hope real for me and the thousands of other people who are struggling to manage their health,” Madelyn said that 2006 autumn day in Dorchester.

Exactly two years later, she is just as enthusiastic about the landmark Massachusetts health care reform effort that is helping people like her reclaim their lives. She no longer decides between medicine and food. She now gets the routine care she needs. Her health is being restored. She feels secure.

“I no longer live in fear of the next illness or accident,” Madelyn said. “Without the foundation of health, you cannot hold your own or contribute. You cannot use your skills and resources to build a strong life and community.”

Two years old today, the Commonwealth Care program is providing subsidized insurance to some 170,000 low-income residents who are not offered insurance through their employer. They are among the nearly 440,000 residents who have acquired health insurance since implementation of healthcare reform in Massachusetts, which now has the lowest rate of uninsured residents in the entire country. This includes 191,000 (nearly half) newly enrolled in employer-sponsored or unsubsidized commercial insurance.

Naturally, covering the uninsured costs money.

Commonwealth Care cost about $630 million last year and is budgeted for more this year, reflecting our success with outreach and enrollment.

Working together with the Patrick Administration and the Legislature, we will continue to pursue and develop cost-saving initiatives that keep health insurance affordable for both enrollees and taxpayers. During the past year, the “per member per month” rate that government pays to insure Commonwealth Care members actually came in two percent less than was budgeted. That’s a good sign. And as more people obtain health insurance, there is a lesser reliance on episodic free care. Use of the Health Safety Net Fund for the uninsured, as reported by the Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, has declined by 37 percent and payments declined by 41 percent. That’s another strong indicator that health care reform is working exactly as it was intended.

This is all about helping people in need. People like Jaclyn Michalos of Norwood. Only 27 years old when she enrolled in Commonwealth Care last year, Jaclyn was soon diagnosed with breast cancer.

“If I didn’t have health insurance, I would never have made an appointment with my doctor because of the cost,” she said. “The cancer would have spread and I would not be alive today to tell you my story.”

Jaclyn is not only cancer-free today, but she has no medical debt. A program that is two years old today is literally a life saver.

Jon Kingsdale is executive director of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority.

This program aired on October 1, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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