BOSTON - Massachusetts has the nation's highest rate of residents
with health insurance. Visits to emergency rooms are beginning to
ease. More residents are getting cancer screenings and more women
are making prenatal doctors' visits.
Still, one of the biggest challenges for the state lies ahead:
reining in spiraling costs.
Six years after Gov. Mitt Romney signed the nation's most
ambitious health care law - one that would lay the groundwork for
his presidential opponent's national version - supporters say the
Massachusetts law holds promise for the long-term success of
President Barack Obama's plan.
Like the federal law it inspired, the Massachusetts law has
multiple goals, among them expanding the number of insured
residents, reducing emergency room visits, penalizing those who can
afford coverage but opt to remain uninsured, and requiring employers
to offer coverage or pay a fine.
Supporters of the Massachusetts experiment are quick to point out
An additional 400,000 individuals have gained insurance since
2006, meaning about 98 percent of residents have coverage.
A recent study by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts
Foundation found that between 2006 and 2010, the use of emergency
rooms for nonemergency reasons fell nearly 4 percent. That was a key
goal of the law, since using emergency rooms for routine care is far
more expensive than visiting a doctor.
State health officials also point to what they say are increases
in mammograms, colon cancer screenings and prenatal care visits and
a 150,000-person reduction in the number of smokers after the state
expanded coverage for smoking cessation programs.
"Since Gov. Romney signed health care reform here in
Massachusetts, more private companies are offering health care to
their employees, fewer people are getting primary care in an
expensive emergency room setting, and hundreds of thousands of our
friends and neighbors have access to care," said Gov. Deval Patrick,
a Democrat and co-chairman of Obama's re-election committee.
Another reason the law remains popular may be that so many
Massachusetts residents receive insurance through work and have been
largely untouched by its penalties. The Blue Cross Blue Shield study
found 68 percent of nonelderly adults received coverage through
their employers in 2010, up from about 64 percent in 2006.
The study also found no evidence to support one fear lawmakers
had when they approved the law - that employers or workers might
drop coverage because of the availability of public coverage. …