An Unhealthy Compromise

As anyone without insurance will readily acknowledge, health
care in the United States is insufficient at best, in crisis at
worst. Yet, on a policy level, we have seen nothing but gridlock at
both the state and federal levels. So when Massachusetts hastily
passed its health care reform bill, all eyes turned to the tiny
state with big ambitions.

The defining characteristic of the bill, politically, seems to
be how nonpartisan it is. Nobody can agree on whether liberals or
conservatives should be happy; indeed, it looks like both are.
Consensus, if there is any on this issue, is that the measure is
‘something to watch.’

Across the political spectrum, however, skeptics have been
cropping up. While some casually declare that the bill is doomed to
go the way of then-Gov. Michael Dukakis’ 1980s failed attempt at
universal health care coverage, others are offering substantive,
and sharp, criticism.

The co-founders of

Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) issued a
statement
on April 5 that points to a glitch in the math. The
group claims that the number of uninsured used for the purposes of
the bill (500,000) vastly underestimates the real number (748,000).
Why the difference? The numbers come from two different studies,
one conducted over the phone only in English and Spanish (500,000),
and the other conducted door-to-door in many languages (748,000).
According to the PNHP, the larger tally blows the plan’s cost out
of the water and makes it a failure waiting to happen.

More troubling, still, is an
article in
the alternative weekly The Phoenix
from mid-March,
before the bill was passed, that outlines whose interests the bill
will likely represent. Present at the meetings were groups like the
Massachusetts Taxpayers Association, a fiscally conservative
watchdog group, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts. As
a
Science Daily article points out, ‘The
health-insurance industry… lobbied heavily on behalf of the
legislation.’ The planning meetings were conducted in shotgun
style, as $385 million in federal money was riding on the bill’s
completion. And as The Phoenix points out, the meetings
also were secretive and low-income residents were not represented;
small-government proponents, big business, and insurance lobbyists,
however, were there in spades.

One aspect of the bill that business did not want included —
and was vetoed by Gov. Mitt Romney when he signed the bill on April
12 — is a provision that essentially fines employers $295 per
employee if they do not offer health care. With a buy-out like
this, critics wonder if businesses could reasonably be expected to
opt for providing health insurance.

Kevin Drum, of Washington Monthly
, however, seems to
home in on the bill’s most fundamental problem: ‘[It] doesn’t do
anything to address cost containment and doesn’t do anything to
make the system more efficient.’ By not addressing this core
problem with health care in the state, say Alan Sager and Deborah
Socolar, Directors of the Health Reform Program at Boston
University’s School of Public Health, in an
eMaxHealth
article
, ‘This mandate throws financially struggling
individuals into battle with health insurance agents, insurers, and
caregivers.’ Any plan that does not address this issue is either
willfully ignorant or, as others have argued, a boon for insurance
companies.

The bill is something to watch, and still a work in progress,
with the state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature seen as likely
to override Romney’s veto. But universal health care is not, as
these critics have pointed out, necessarily beneficial. Instead of
providing a viable solution to the state’s health care crisis, the
critics claim, the bill’s authors have used shaky numbers to draft
a business-friendly piece of legislation, doing little to better
how health care is delivered to the majority of the state’s
citizens.

Go there >>

Massachusetts Health Reform Bill: A False Promise of Universal
Coverage

Go there too >>

Universal Healthcare in the Bay State

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