Monday March 05, 2012
Last week, I was invited to speak about the realities of Massachusetts’s health care reform at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s National Forum on the Future of Health Care in Washington, DC. Because our reform serves as the model for the Affordable Care Act, and because our experience is so often misrepresented in the public discourse, I welcomed the opportunity.
Massachusetts’s health care reform has been a resounding success. Today, more than 98% of Massachusetts’s residents have health care coverage, including 99.8% of children. No other state in America can touch that. People no longer have to fear having their insurance cancelled when they get sick, or that a serious illness will leave them bankrupt. And we’ve achieved these results without the calamities the naysayers predicted.
There was concern that there weren’t enough doctors for universal health care. That hasn’t been true. More than 90% of our residents have a primary care physician. What’s more, four out of five respondents in a recent poll said they had seen their primary care doctor in the last year.
There was concern that companies would stop offering health insurance. That hasn’t been true. In fact, more private companies offer their employees insurance today than before the bill was passed.
There was concern that we wouldn’t be able to afford universal health care. But getting to 98% coverage has only added about 1 percent to state spending.
Emergency room visits are down and spending on the uninsured has dropped by nearly half as well.
“Minimum Creditable Coverage,” our version of the ACA’s “Essential Benefits,” includes not only primary care, but also cancer screenings, primary care, mental health and substance abuse programs, and medications. For all that, Massachusetts is a healthier place. For example, there is already positive data to suggest that these reforms are having a positive impact on cancer rates and treatment, such as a 36% decrease in cervical cancer in women.
Our next big challenge is to make health care as affordable as it is accessible. Health care cost containment is a national challenge, neither caused by our reform nor unique to Massachusetts. We are pursuing a number of strategies to end excessive premium hikes, encourage limited network health plans, create integrated care delivery models, and put an end to the “fee-for-service” model. We are making progress daily – average premium hikes have dropped from over 16% two years ago to less than 2% today — and it is only a matter of time before we permanently crack the code on cost control.
For us, and I believe for this country, solving the health care challenge has everything to do with fulfilling our generational responsibility – that old-fashioned idea that each of us in our time must do all we can to leave things better for those who come behind us. This challenge belongs to all of us, from whatever party or no party. We owe it to our future to get it right.
Governor Deval Patrick is serving his second term as governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
**Photos courtesy of Doug DeMark Photography & http://bit.ly/zhTTQ2