Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Massachusetts Legislature Passes Mandatory Health Care Bill.
In a surprising and potentially historic move, the Massachusetts state legislature passed a bill that would guarantee all Massachusetts residents health care. The sound you heard in the distance was Deadeye Dick Cheney shitting a Pentagon-sized brick. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:
BOSTON - Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday that would make Massachusetts the first state to require that all its citizens have some form of health insurance.
The plan — approved just 24 hours after the final details were released — would use a combination of financial incentives and penalties to dramatically expand access to health care over the next three years and extend coverage to the state's estimated 500,000 uninsured.
If all goes as planned, poor people will be offered free or heavily subsidized coverage; those who can afford insurance but refuse to get it will face increasing tax penalties until they obtain coverage; and those already insured will see a modest drop in their premiums.
The measure does not call for new taxes but would require businesses that do not offer insurance to pay a $295 annual fee per employee. The cost was put at $316 million in the first year, and more than a $1 billion by the third year, with much of that money coming from federal reimbursements and existing state spending, officials said.
The House approved the bill on a 154-2 vote. The Senate endorsed it 37-0.
A final procedural vote is needed in both chambers of the Democratic-controlled legislature before the bill can head to the desk of Gov. Mitt Romney, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2008. Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said the governor would sign the bill but would make some changes that wouldn't "affect the main purpose of the bill."
Oh shit. I knew there was a catch. Please Mitt, don't fuck this up the way Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy fucked up with the "overhaul" of the Medicare prescription drug plan...
"It's only fitting that Massachusetts would set forward and produce the most comprehensive, all-encompassing health care reform bill in the country," said House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, a Democrat. "Do we know whether this is perfect or not? No, because it's never been done before."
Yes, and part of the reason it's never been done before is because, on the Federal level, the Senate Democrats all fell in line with assholes like Newt Gingrich (R -Serial Matrimonist) when he screamed that Hillary was trying to force "socialized medicine" on America. Maybe the fact that the conservative remedy of HMOs, with their skyrocketing costs has caused enough legislators to awaken from their collective slumber to do something positive about health care for a change.
The only other state to come close to the Massachusetts plan is Maine, which passed a law in 2003 to dramatically expand health care. That plan relies largely on voluntary compliance.
The plan hinges in part on two key sections: the $295-per-employee business assessment and a so-called "individual mandate," requiring every citizen who can afford it to obtain health insurance or face increasing tax penalties.
Liberals typically support employer mandates, while conservatives generally back individual responsibility.
Translation: Liberals want everyone to help everyone. Conservatives want to let the poor eat shit and die if they get sick.
The state's poorest — single adults making $9,500 or less a year — will have access to health coverage with no premiums or deductibles. Those living at up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $48,000 for a family of three, will be able to get health coverage on a sliding scale, also with no deductibles.
The vast majority of Massachusetts residents who are already insured could see a modest easing of their premiums. Individuals deemed able but unwilling to purchase health care could face fines of more than $1,000 a year by the state if they don't get insurance.
Romney pushed vigorously for the individual mandate and called the legislation "something historic, truly landmark, a once-in-a-generation opportunity."
One goal of the bill is to protect $385 million pledged by the federal government over each of the next two years if the state can show it is on a path to reducing its number of uninsured. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has threatened to withhold the money if the state does not have a plan up and running by July 1.
Two points: One, Romney mistakenly thinks he has a chance at the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. The ironic thing for Romney is that the neocon sludgemongers who currently control the GOP never had any intention of endorsing him for a presidential run, but now they can point to his signing of this bill into law, now matter how flawed or compromised it becomes, as proof that Romney is "too liberal".
Second, as a victim of downsizing during Bush 41's economic disaster, I had a choice of keeping my company health insurance package for a mere $313.00 a month. That was back in 1991. Having spoken to some recently downsized folks, that figure has risen to more than 1.5 times that amount in 15 years. How the hell is someone without a job supposed to be able to afford that? Back in 1991 I was on the cusp of 30, so I rolled the dice and went without health insurance as I went through periods of unemployment and semi-employment until 1995 when I joined the company where I now work. These days, as I enter my mid-40s, I'd be crazy to repeat that pattern if I was laid off today.
A lot of people are confused by this issue, and I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I view this as a good positive first step because, as bad as things got for me economically in the early 1990s, I was never among the poorest residents of this Commonwealth. I can't even imagine what the truly poor have to endure under such conditions.