I don’t generally pause long over the editorials in the NY Times. This morning’s caught my eye. As a recent state resident I watched the debate closely and supported the single payer approach. Since then the results have been interesting and as noted in the Time’s editorial generally good.
Here us the editorial:
Health Reform in Massachusetts
Last Updated: 11:18 PM EDT
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.
Like the federal reform law, Massachusetts’s plan required people to buy insurance and employers to offer it or pay a fee. It expanded Medicaid for the poor and set up insurance exchanges where people could buy individual policies, with subsidies for those with modest incomes.
Since reform was enacted, the state has achieved its goal of providing near-universal coverage: 98 percent of all residents were insured last year. That has come with minimal fiscal strain. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a nonpartisan fiscal monitoring group, estimated that the reforms cost the state $350 million in fiscal year 2010, a little more than 1 percent of the state budget.
Other significant accomplishments:
The percentage of employers offering insurance has increased, probably because more workers are demanding coverage and businesses are required to offer it.
The state has used managed-care plans to hold down the costs of subsidies: per capita payments for low-income enrollees rose an average of 5 percent a year over the first four years, well below recent 7 percent annual increases in per capita health care spending in Massachusetts. The payments are unlikely to rise at all in the current year, in large part because of a competitive bidding process and pressure from the officials supervising it.
The average premiums paid by individuals who purchase unsubsidized insurance have dropped substantially, 20 percent to 40 percent by some estimates, mostly because reform has brought in younger and healthier people to offset the cost of covering the older and sicker.
Residents of Massachusetts have clearly chosen to tune out the national chatter and look at their own experience. Most polls show that the state reforms are strongly supported by the public, business leaders and doctors, often by 60 percent or more.
There are still real problems that need to be solved. Small businesses are complaining that their premiums are rising faster than before, although how much of that is because of the reform law is not clear.
Insuring more people was expected to reduce the use of emergency rooms for routine care but has not done so to any significant degree. There is no evidence to support critics’ claims that the addition of 400,000 people to the insurance rolls is the cause of long waits to see a doctor.
What reform has not done is slow the rise in health care costs. Massachusetts put off addressing that until it had achieved universal coverage. No one should minimize the challenge, but serious efforts are now being weighed.
Gov. Deval Patrick has submitted a bill to the Legislature that would enhance the state’s powers to reject premium increases, allow the state to limit what hospitals and other providers can be paid by insurers, and promote alternatives to costly fee-for-service medicine. The governor’s goal is to make efficient integrated care organizations the predominant health care provider by 2015.
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.