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    Wednesday, April 05, 2006

    Massachusetts Rocks

    Not only is it pretty there, not only can you marry someone of whatever gender you wish, Massachusetts is poised to become the first state to provide nearly universal health care coverage with a bill passed overwhelmingly by the legislature Tuesday that Gov. Mitt Romney says he will sign.

    Wow.

    There's only one little problem. Now everyone is going to become even more convinced that universal health care is a wacked out "moonbat" idea, since, I mean, come on, it's Massachusetts!

    The bill does what health experts say no other state has been able to do: provide a mechanism for all of its citizens to obtain health insurance. It accomplishes that in a way that experts say combines methods and proposals from across the political spectrum, apportioning the cost among businesses, individuals and the government.

    "This is probably about as close as you can get to universal," said Paul B. Ginsburg, president of the nonpartisan Center for Studying Health System Change in Washington. "It's definitely going to be inspiring to other states about how there was this compromise. They found a way to get to a major expansion of coverage that people could agree on. For a conservative Republican, this is individual responsibility. For a Democrat, this is government helping those that need help."

    The bill, the product of months of wrangling between legislators and the governor, requires all Massachusetts residents to obtain health coverage by July 1, 2007.

    Individuals who can afford private insurance will be penalized on their state income taxes if they do not purchase it. Government subsidies to private insurance plans will allow more of the working poor to buy insurance and will expand the number of children who are eligible for free coverage. Businesses with more than 10 workers that do not provide insurance will be assessed up to $295 per employee per year.

    All told, the plan is expected to cover 515,000 uninsured people within three years, about 95 percent of the state's uninsured population, legislators said, leaving less than 1 percent of the population unprotected.

    "It is not a typical Massachusetts-Taxachusetts, oh-just-crazy-liberal plan," said Stuart H. Altman, a professor of health policy at Brandeis University. "It isn't that at all. It is a pretty moderate approach, and that's what's impressive about it. It tried to borrow and blend a lot of different pieces." ...

    "Whenever you can have the medical community, the business community and the advocates all applauding our efforts, I think that's indicative of a successful exercise," said State Senator Robert E. Travaglini, the majority leader.

    Mr. Romney pushed the idea of the "individual mandate," requiring people who can afford insurance to buy it. The bill makes it possible for employers to enable many of those people to use pretax dollars, saving them 25 percent or more. Individuals who fail to get health insurance by July 2007 will first lose their personal exemption on their state taxes. In subsequent years, they would have to pay a penalty that could be as high as half of what an affordable health care premium would cost.

    Eric Fehrnstrom, the governor's communications director, said that for those people with incomes above 300 percent of poverty, "our assumption was that these would be mostly single mothers who just did not have the wherewithal to get insurance. It turned out it was mostly young males. In some cases they are making very attractive salaries. These are people who just don't imagine themselves needing care, but of course when they break a leg when they're out bungee jumping they go to the hospital and we end up paying for their care anyway." ...

    Advocates for the uninsured held a victory rally at the Statehouse.

    "We're thrilled that this truly represents a commitment to the poor and the working poor," said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, a leader of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization.

    Joseph Landais, 64, could use insurance for himself, his wife and three children. Mr. Landais, a retired hospital custodian, said his wife, a nurse's aide, makes too much for the family to be eligible for Medicaid but not enough to afford insurance. He had a hernia operation four months ago that he did not have to pay for under the free-care pool, but he had not been able to see a doctor since then, even though he is still not feeling well.

    "After years that you've been working that hard," Mr. Landais said, "I think you deserve something back."


    Yeah, there are problems, it's not perfect, but whatev! It's something.

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