Survey: Massachusetts Residents Like Their Healthcare Coverage

Despite GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s wish to distance himself from the law he passed, an overwhelming majority of Massachusetts residents support their state’s landmark universal health insurance program. Even though backing for its central feature — the mandate that most residents have coverage – is not quite as popular, nearly 75 percent of respondents to the Harvard School of Public Health and the Boston Globe poll said they supported the law.  When asked if they wanted changes, more than 50 percent said they did.  Another 24 percent support continuing the law as it is.

Support for the law has risen from the last time Bay Staters were asked their opinion by the Harvard researchers in 2009.  At that time, overall support was 53 percent.  Since then, it has risen to 63 percent.  That will likely come as a surprise to those who have called the state’s law, which served as a model for the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), an abject failure.

“The picture of how the Massachusetts healthcare law is working out is different than many national commentators suggest,” said Harvard’s Robert Blendon.  “Most people in Massachusetts approve of this law, and it hasn’t negatively affected them.  A large share of the audience (outside of Massachusetts) believes that something is terribly wrong because they’ve heard stories about how expensive it is…and people who live in the state just have a very different view of what’s going on here,” he said.

“Even with all the attention the Massachusetts law has gotten nationally, it really hasn’t driven down support among voters here in Massachusetts,” said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the poll.  “Taking that in concert with the level of influence people thought the state law had on the national law, at least it suggests there’s some difficulty distancing yourself from what happened nationally to what happened here at home,” Koczela said.

The myth is that the Massachusetts law failed to significantly reduce the ranks of the uninsured in the state. The fact is that the Massachusetts law dramatically increased the state’s insurance rate over a period when the national health coverage rate declined.  At the end of 2010, 98.1 percent of the state’s residents were insured compared to 87.5 percent in 2006 when the law went into effect.  Almost all children in the state were insured in 2010 (99.8 percent).  By comparison, at the national level the health insurance rate dropped from 85.2 percent in 2006 to 84.6 percent in 2010.

Approximately 77 percent of private companies are providing health insurance to their employees, compared to 70 percent before the law, according to Governor Deval Patrick’s office.  The law requires all employers with more than 11 full-time employees to make a “fair and reasonable” contribution toward their workers’ health plans or face penalties.  The mandate that requires all state residents to carry health insurance has also proved to be effective, with nearly 97 percent of taxpayers in compliance.

The problematic part of the law is its failure to curb rising costs.  Although implementation of the law itself didn’t damage the state’s budget – according to an analysis by the independent Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation, the increase in net spending for the law was just one percent in 2010 – it hasn’t reduced overall costs for policyholders.  Private spending per member grew an average of 15.5 percent between 2006 and 2008.  Meanwhile, average premiums for full insurance increased 12.2 percent from 2006 to 2008, according to the Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy.

Still, two-thirds of adults in the state support the law, while 88 percent of doctors say it improved, or did not affect, the quality of care.

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