NY Times Calls Mass. Health Reform Success; A Sampling Of Readers' Responses

Some staffers of The New York Times have been known to comfort themselves, when they're late on a story, by saying something like, "Well, something hasn't really happened until it's been in The Times."

So though the landmark Massachusetts health reform of 2006 has been garnering positive reviews from many (though not all) quarters for years, it does seem worth noting that the Times has officially proclaimed it a success, in this May 20 masthead editorial. It wrote:

Mitt Romney’s defense of the Massachusetts health care reforms was politically self-serving. It was also true.

Despite all of the bashing by conservative commentators and politicians — and the predictions of doom for national health care reform — the program he signed into law as governor has been a success. The real lesson from Massachusetts is that health care reform can work, and the national law should work as well or even better.

The editorial points out that 98 percent of residents are insured; the cost of the reform is about 1 percent of the state budget; more employers are offering insurance; local public opinion is generally positive. On the less positive side, business premiums continue to rise; ER use and waits for primary care remain high; and costs are still rising.

The editorial concludes:

The national reform law has provisions designed to reduce spending in Medicare and Medicaid and, through force of example, the rest of the health care system. Those efforts will barely get started by the time Massachusetts hopes to have transformed its entire system. Washington and other states will need to keep a close watch

We can start by watching the comments after this article. There were some of the usual polemics, but also some interesting experiences shared by readers, on both sides. For example:

From Carlisle, MA:

I agree with the editorial that on the whole the program seems to be working and I support it wholeheartedly. But I wonder about your assertion "The average premiums paid by individuals who purchase unsubsidized insurance have dropped substantially, 20 percent to 40 percent by some estimates....". Our individual premiums (we are in our early 60s) went from $710 to $764, an increase of 7.6%. Of course this is far less than our increase last year of 23% which finally went through after some initial pushback by the Commonwealth. So, fortunately, the rate of increase has slowed, but I seriously doubt that premiums have dropped in absolute terms. Perhaps someone can point to the data you used.

This, from Haverhill:

Premiums have gone down, you say? Where did you obtain that information? I'm a public school teacher and belong to one of those dreaded public service unions (please note sarcasm), so it must be okay that I've been paying 38 percent of the cost of my premium for many years--that certainly hasn't been reduced--and last July was hit with a $1,000 deductible (as a single person) for the first time and increases in co-pays for everything, and will likely lose some collective bargaining rights over future negotiations of my health care benefits, if the Governor and Legislature have their way.

And this, from Cambridge:

Of course, it works. I got laid off three years ago. Unemployment covered 80% of my cobra payments. When my unemployment benefits ran out, I enrolled through the Commonwealth Connector Program. It is not cheap, $400 a month. However, it covers almost everything with only one grant deductible. If I were in a different state than MA, with all of my "preexisting conditions", I would have paid around $1800 which would have meant no insurance for me. I am grateful to MA for providing an option that is cheaper than a monthly Cobra payment (which was $650 a month)!

This program aired on May 23, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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