Washington State is among the latest of our sister states to take great strides in expanding access to health care. They earmarked money to cover more children, allowed small employers to purchase coverage at a government-negotiated price and let parents cover dependents up to age 25. Officials in that state are reasonably confident that they can cover all children by 2010 and all residents by 2012.
It’s certainly encouraging to see so many states take hope from what we are achieving in Massachusetts. They are recognizing, as we did earlier, that the problems of caring for the uninsured and the burden they place on the rest of the system have become acute. We can’t wait for the federal government to develop a national plan.
States can do the job if the federal government doesn’t make it too difficult with its regulations and helps us along with financial support.
Increasingly, states are realizing what Massachusetts understands, that the taxpayers can’t afford to cover everyone, and that we must rely on participation by insurers, providers, employers and individuals. The Massachusetts prescription for pooling risk for small companies and linking with private insurers has become a model that’s being tested in other states.
In the past, talk at the state level was all about creating a uniform package of coverage that would be the same for all citizens. That’s no longer the case with states seeking to provide adequate coverage of some sort. Defining what the adequate coverage needs to be and how to make it affordable is the challenge that Massachusetts is currently addressing. It seems that with 120,000 previously uninsured signed up for coverage of varying types and with varying levels of state assistance, Massachusetts is on its way.
As Alan Greenblatt wrote in Governing, “The idea that the state would not dictate terms of insurance, but instead act as a sort of broker in a private marketplace, has created a unique political amalgam. The idea of individual responsibility and market competition has drawn support from Republicans and business groups. But using such ideas to provide more coverage has proven acceptable to Democrats and health care advocates. This new approach – saying that government does not have to provide insurance for everybody but will offer ideas for improvement to the private market and some help to individuals in the form of premium subsidies – promises to remove many of the ideological sticking points that have hindered reform efforts in the past.”
This precisely why we were able, in Massachusetts, to forge a consensus around the landmark law that was enacted last year and why many other states are now working to find their own paths to universal health insurance.
Senator Richard T. Moore is the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing
This program aired on June 7, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.