In 2006, Massachusetts established a broader health care system to provide universal health insurance coverage to its residents while also cutting down costs. The Massachusetts health care reform features several crucial components that expanded coverage to more than 100,000 uninsured. The reform requires all Massachusetts adults to enroll in a health insurance plan or risk penalty, while all employers must also provide health insurance to employees or pay a penalty. Low-income adults have the opportunity to join one of the state-run Commonwealth Care plans.
While Massachusetts has succeeded in expanding health insurance coverage, it has not succeeded in slashing costs. As of June 2010, Massachusetts has the lowest uninsured rate in the United States at 4.8 percent, having slashed the uninsured rate by 60 percent. Compare that to the United States as a whole, where 15.4% of citizens are not covered. Massachusetts’ efforts in expanding covered should be classified as successful.
However, the successes of broader coverage cannot hide the plan’s inability to cut costs. The wide coverage, coupled with state subsidies and reduced rivalry between health providers, has caused costs to rise. The Massachusetts Department of Insurance has denied insurers’ demands for rate hikes in an attempt to keep expenses low for consumers. Meanwhile, insurers argue that reducing rates without slashing health provider costs places undue stress on them. Premiums have increased substantially for individuals and families, while the use of the emergency room for non-emergencies did not markedly decrease, perhaps indicating a deeper issue: the primary care physician shortage.
The similarities between the Massachusetts plan and the 2010 US Affordable Care Act make Massachusetts’ successes and failures ever more glaring on the national stage. According to a report from Fortune Magazine, both the Massachusetts and Obama plans increase health care demands without addressing health care shortages. Prices have gone through the roof, and according to Fortune, will not decrease until the government stops targeting insurers. Insurance pools also grow more expensive as younger, healthier members drop out while sicker members stay in. Subsidizing middle-income plans may also prove expensive, while additional state-mandated benefits have also strained the system. According to Fortune, Massachusetts residents have begun to manipulate the system to optimize their health insurance benefits and subsidies.
If Massachusetts can successfully manage the costs associated with its health care reform, perhaps this will bode well for the Affordable Health Care Act. Four years into the Massachusetts plan, costs have continued to skyrocket as more residents are covered. In the current economy, controlling costs is ever more crucial to the health care industry and to the country’s economy as a whole. Solving the primary care and health provider shortage may prove a good step in shaving down costs.
In the end, it will be the costs, not universal coverage, that determine success for both the Massachusetts and federal reform programs. I hope that both reforms can find a way to cut costs beyond placing limits on insurers, perhaps by streamlining health care overall and improving the pool of preventative