Here’s a great story about health care reform in action. Two weeks ago, a 63-year-old retiree walked into the offices of the Commonwealth Connector and became the first person in Massachusetts to purchase unsubsidized insurance coverage through the new organization. This man – let’s call him “Mr. P.” — retired early a few years ago, and purchased insurance under COBRA through his former employer. (COBRA is a federal program that gives individuals the option to continue health benefits provided by their employer or other group for limited periods of time under certain circumstances.) Now, his eligibility through COBRA is about to expire, and he will not qualify for Medicare benefits until he turns 65 two years from now. It’s just the kind of gap many people face at one time or another.
Before health care reform became law, Mr. P. would have had a small number of expensive choices. Today, he can choose from lower-cost plans for different budgets and circumstances. As it turns out, he chose a product of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts for himself and his wife. They were Blue Cross members under his COBRA plan, and did not want to interrupt their coverage or switch insurers. Under the new law, they didn’t have to.
While health reform has allowed Mr. P. and his wife to continue their coverage, it has also allowed nearly 120,000 people to get coverage, many for the first time in a long time. Nearly 53,000 of the poorest Bay Staters have joined MassHealth, thanks to expanded eligibility rules and an aggressive outreach program. About 69,000 people with low incomes have gotten financial help, on a sliding scale, to buy coverage through the Connector. And, as of May 1, hundreds of thousands like Mr. P., people who don’t have health insurance, can choose from dozens of affordable health insurance plans.
Of course, not everyone will jump in and sign up like Mr. P. did. To reach those who need more information or assistance, the state has funded an outreach campaign to let people know about their choices and responsibilities under the new law.
This outreach invites the remaining uninsured residents in Massachusetts to explore their options and make the right decision for their families. Public awareness campaigns will be far-reaching, diverse, and targeted to the many different people who are not currently covered. If it works as we hope it will, tens, or even hundreds of thousands of people will soon know the peace of mind that comes with a health insurance card: access to affordable, high quality health care.
Andrew Dreyfus is executive vice president for health care services at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and former president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation
This program aired on May 22, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.