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Massachusetts Health Insurance Bill Will Disappoint, Hurt Low-Income Families

Armen Hareyan's picture

Massachusetts Health Insurance

Once again, health care advocates and experts are now saying, Massachusetts is attempting to extend health insurance coverage to the uninsured without in any way addressing the spiraling costs of the state's health care system. "This week's proposals merely repeat one from 20 years ago when Governor Dukakis was celebrating passage of his universal healthcare bill," say Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, Professors of Medicine at Harvard University. "That plan imploded within two years, and Massachusetts' new health reform legislation looks set to repeat that disaster."

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The Bill includes provisions requiring that uninsured families purchase at least stripped-down, poor quality health insurance through the private market, or face stiff penalties on their tax forms. "This mandate throws financially-struggling individuals into battle with health insurance agents, insurers, and caregivers," say Alan Sager and Deborah Socolar, Directors of the Health Reform Program at Boston University's School of Public Health. Even these poor, low-premium plans are likely to cost low-income families and individuals far more than they can afford, and the Bill does not raise enough funds to subsidize even a fraction of these new costs. The Bill raises only $170 million per year to subsidize the new financial burdens now placed upon the uninsured, which is "a drop in the bucket of Massachusetts health care, where spending this year will be $59 billion," according to Sager.

Uninsured individuals who are at three times the poverty line, and to whom the Bill promises no financial assistance, will be forced to pay over 20 percent of their income to cover health care costs, according to the best estimates available. While real incomes for the poorest five percent of the population have been falling and may continue to fall, the health care costs they will now have to pay are likely to continue to rise, particularly since individual health plans are the costliest on the planet.

"The Bill will worsen the complex and costly administrative system that wastes funds needed to pay for actual health services," says Alice Rothchild, MD, Board President of the Alliance to Defend Health Care. The Bill is also likely to encourage employers currently providing health