Romney should be proud of Massachusetts health law
It’s been six years since Mitt Romney signed the Massachusetts healthcare reform law. That law was a framework for change, a values statement about what we believe in Massachusetts: that health is a public good and that everyone deserves access to affordable, high-quality healthcare.
Six years after its passage, our experiment in universal healthcare is working, expanding coverage while helping to control costs. Mitt Romney should be proud of the law he signed. As the one responsible for implementing it, I know I am. Here’s why.
More people have health insurance in Massachusetts than anywhere else in the country: 98.1 percent of our total population. Of our children, 99.8 percent are covered. While the number of people without health insurance in America grew from 2006 to 2010, more than 400,000 people in Massachusetts gained coverage.
This isn’t because government took over. Massachusetts healthcare reform, like the national Affordable Care Act, takes a hybrid approach to increasing coverage, encouraging people to get health insurance in the private market and subsidizing the cost for those who can’t afford it. Here again, it is working. More businesses offer their employees private healthcare today than did before the law was signed. The 77 percent of Massachusetts businesses that offer their employees private insurance is well above the national norm.
Most important, people in Massachusetts are healthier and getting better care. Over 90 percent of our residents have a primary care physician, and 4 out of 5 have seen their doctor in the last 12 months. Preventive care is up: More people are receiving cancer screenings, more women are getting prenatal care, and visits to emergency rooms have decreased. After we expanded coverage for smoking cessation programs, 150,000 people stopped smoking, and a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research documents improvements in physical health, mental health, functional limitations and joint disorders as a result of the law. While everyone is better off, women, minorities and low-income residents saw the biggest health improvements. I have met individuals whose lives have been saved by the access to good care our model made possible.
Massachusetts healthcare reform has proved to be cost-effective as well. An independent analysis by the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation estimated the law was responsible for about a 1 percent increase in net state spending. Spending on our uncompensated care pool – those who receive medically necessary care they can’t afford – is down significantly since the law passed. Today, the Massachusetts Health Care Connector – our version of the “exchange” created by the Affordable Care Act – announced that it will provide private health insurance to more people than ever next year, at an average per-person cost 5 percent lower than last year, the second year in a row of premium decline. Growth in premiums throughout the market has slowed from an average of about 16 percent two years ago to less than 2 percent today.
For these reasons and more, healthcare reform remains popular in Massachusetts. More than 60 percent of our residents support it. They know it is working for them.
There is more work to do. We still must do more to control the cost of healthcare in Massachusetts and across the country. We must also be open to new technologies and payment methods to continually improve the quality of care. We are tackling that challenge next, with help from the tools of the Affordable Care Act.
But after six years, it is worth taking a moment to recognize all the good that is happening here in Massachusetts – and how it came about. A Republican governor, Mitt Romney, a Democratic senator, Ted Kennedy, a Democratic state legislature, the business community, organized labor, health leaders and patient advocates all came together to invent our model, and most then stuck together to refine it as we moved forward. They decided collectively to put a stake in the ground, acknowledging the all-in cost of poor health and inadequate access to care and resolving that in Massachusetts healthcare would be available to everyone. Each brought ideas to the table. Romney and business leaders brought the individual mandate. Legislators insisted on a way to hold accountable companies that did not provide coverage to employees. Patient advocates brought a special sensibility about affordability. Kennedy brought his subject-matter expertise and his skill at bridging partisan divides. Working together, they realized they had other choices when it comes to healthcare reform than the usual two: a perfect solution or no solution at all.
Six years after its passage, it is clear that healthcare reform has worked in Massachusetts. And there is no reason to believe it won’t work for the rest of the nation.
PHOTO: Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks at a signing ceremony for the state’s healthcare reform bill, at Faneuil Hall in Boston, April 12, 2006. REUTERS/Brian Snyder