In 2006, [Massachusetts] lawmakers seeking to broaden health coverage made it illegal to be uninsured. It works like this: Employers have to offer you a health plan. If you are jobless or don’t like your employer’s plan, you must buy your own. If you don’t get one, you pay a stiff fine. This strategy—known as an employer and individual “mandate”—forms the backbone of the national health reform bills now making their way through Congress.
On paper, the experiment was a resounding success. According to an Urban Institute estimate, the number of uninsured residents quickly fell from 13 percent to 7 percent following the law’s passage.
And yet, something strange happened. Despite having health insurance, roughly one in 10 state residents still failed to fill prescriptions, ended up with unpaid medical bills, or skipped needed medical care for financial reasons. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to insure more Massachusetts citizens, but many people still weren’t getting necessary care. What happened?
Assume you’re looking to buy insurance. The state has a handy Web site where you can find the cheapest plan. For a young family of four, that plan costs roughly $9,500 per year, which doesn’t include a minimum annual deductible of $3,500 before many benefits kick in. (The state helps cover some of the premiums for those who make very little money, but many still have to pay the other fees.) And if anyone is hospitalized or needs a lot of specialized care, you also pay 20 percent of that bill. In this relatively cheap plan, the family can be liable for an extra $10,000 per year of medical costs. This sort of “high deductible” health plan is clearly structured to discourage medical care.
The article goes on to detail the effects of the program, parts of which may end up in Obama’s plan. The author’s conclusion?
The expensive Massachusetts plan is not well-designed to systematically improve anyone’s health. Instead, it’s a superficial effort to clear the uninsured from the books and then clumsily limit further costs by discouraging care.