Massachusetts Health Reform - Early Successes and Upcoming Challenges by Richard Lord

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How is health care reform going in Massachusetts? Very well so far – although that is not necessarily the impression conveyed by media reports.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts was deeply involved on behalf of its members – basically, employers who already offer employee health benefits – in the process that produced the reform law, and we continue to be engaged in its implementation. I am privileged to serve on the boards of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, which funded important preparatory research, and of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, created to oversee new insurance offerings under the reform law.

Already, in much less than a year, we have extended high quality health insurance coverage to 100,000 Massachusetts residents under the state’s Medicaid program and the Connector’s free or subsidized Commonwealth Care Health Insurance Program for low-income people. This is approximately one-quarter of the uninsured individuals whom the law was intended to reach. The continuing implementation of Commonwealth Care, an upcoming program for young adults, and approval of additional offerings designed to satisfy the individual mandate set to take effect July 1 will surely drive further enrollments.

This first phase of implementation has certainly moved Massachusetts into the lead among all states in the proportion of residents with health insurance coverage.

A major challenge facing us now is ensuring that affordable products will be available to residents of Massachusetts who will be required to purchase health insurance on July 1st without a subsidy. The Connector Board will in the near future determine exactly what benefits must be included in a basic health insurance product to meet the standards for “minimum creditable coverage.”

Setting this standard too high will result in products that are simply not affordable for individuals at the lower end of the income spectrum. For example, requiring insurance products to cover prescription drugs will force 200,000 individuals who currently purchase health insurance to buy more expensive coverage than they already have. We do not believe this was the intent of the reform law that promised to offer individuals more choice and flexibility on selecting insurance products.

I do believe, however, that this and other major challenges we face in the coming months can be addressed in a meaningful way by all sides supporting constructive compromise and preserving the delicate balance of shared responsibility that has been the hallmark of health care reform in Massachusetts.Richard C. Lord
President and CEO
Associated Industries of Massachusetts
Member, Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority

This program aired on February 26, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.