"Health Care Reform: Some Early Positive Impacts on Public Health" by John Auerbach

This article is more than 13 years old.

I was fortunate to have begun my tenure as Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health just about the time that health care reform was going into effect. I spent much of the first few months in the job reviewing health data of Massachusetts residents and traveling around the state for a series of health dialogues to identify a short list of public health priorities.

What was repeatedly reinforced during that experience is that health care reform is directly related to improving the health status of thousands of people, increasing the public's safety on a population-wide basis, and reducing health care tragedies and premature deaths.

Health care reform in Massachusetts is still in its infancy, but we’re already seeing some impressive results.

1. According to the Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, more than 330,000 people have enrolled in private or subsidized insurance programs since the implementation of this groundbreaking initiative.

2 This influenza season we saw a dramatic increase in the number of adults in Massachusetts who received a flu vaccine.

The percent vaccinated rose from 49% to 52% of adults 18-64 years of age with medical conditions that put them at risk for complications from influenza — the first time more than half of such adults were so vaccinated. By providing coverage for flu shots, we’re not just keeping more people healthy during flu season – we’re also reducing how much flu virus is circulating in the population at large.

3. The number of adults over 50 who have had a colonoscopy has rapidly increased in the last year, growing from 57% to 63% of those in the proper age group for such a test. Studies have shown that screening tests like a colonoscopy are much less likely to be performed on an uninsured patient, who would normally receive care only in an urgent or emergency situation.

4. DPH's federally-funded Women's Health Network — which provides free annual mammography and cervical cancer screening for uninsured women — saw its enrollment drop by 50% in the last 6 months of 2007. That’s because most of their patients were found to be eligible for insurance, many of them for the first time. These women found they wouldn't have to rely on the Network for the screenings but could receive them along with full comprehensive care. What’s more, the Women’s Health Network was able to redirect some of their funding to provide health care services which wouldn't be covered by the insurance packages.

These are just several of the most immediate positive results of health care reform in Massachusetts – and that’s only in the first year. We’ll continue to monitor our progress and report back to you, in this forum and many others.

In the meantime, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that any discussion of health care reform should not just focus on the costs, but also on the very real and important positive impact that reform has made in the everyday lives and health of Massachusetts residents.

John Auerbach
Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Public Health

This program aired on June 30, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.