Universal coverage does not mean universal care.
What good is health insurance if you can't get medical attention? This is the question that arises when politicians ration health care. Residents of Massachusetts are learning about all this the hard way. Will we learn from their mistakes? Let's break down Massachusetts' sad story:
- Chapter 58, Massachusetts' universal health care plan, was signed into law by Mitt Romney in April 2006. It is seen as a model for nationwide healthcare reform.
- Under Massachusetts law, any individual earning at least $32,508 a year must purchase health insurance. Those who earn less are eligible for subsidized coverage.
- Residents who obtain no coverage incur a state-imposed fine of approximately $1000/year.
- Physicians who care for patients on state-subsidized plans lose money. "In effect," one physician says, "I hand them $20 when they walk out the door."
- Chapter 58 created an estimated 400,000 newly insured residents in less than two years and Massachusetts' glut of doctors quickly became a critical shortage.
- More than 41% of primary care practices in the state did not accept new patients in 2008, up from 28% in 2006
- Wait times for new-patient appointments rose from four weeks in 2006 to nearly eight weeks in 2008 for general internal medicine doctors. (Nationally, average wait time is slightly under three weeks.)
- Universal coverage has resulted in universal price hikes. By some estimates, costs of covering the state's newly insured are rising by almost 10% each year
- Overall healthcare spending on state-sponsored insurance has risen 23% since 2006.
- "If the problem is cost, reform has failed. Costs have gone up, not down. Since Massachusetts reformed their system, health costs have followed the same path as the U.S. as a whole: a steady upward climb, faster than inflation or wages."
- Doctors are miserable. "Anyone who can is leaving the state"
(From Medical Economics)
"If universal care in Massachusetts cannot stem the tide of rising costs [or deliver the care people need] is there hope for similar plans on the national stage?" We will soon know the painful answer to that question if the Democrats manage to pass a health care bill.
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