Contrary to media reports, Massachusetts’ new health insurance plan has managed to cover nearly all residents at minimal additional cost to the state and could be a model for national healthcare reform, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney tells Newsmax.
Romney, who devised the plan, cites the Massachusetts plan’s own figures and a report by the non-partisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, which has concluded that the claim that the state’s healthcare reform created uncontrollable costs is a “myth.”
“Despite a public perception that the state’s landmark healthcare reform law has turned out to be unaffordable, a new analysis by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation finds that the cost to taxpayers of achieving near universal coverage has been relatively modest and well within initial projections of how much the state would have to spend to implement reform, in part because many of the newly insured have enrolled in employer-sponsored plans at no public expense,” the foundation’s report, issued in May, says.
Covering more than 97 percent of state residents, the Massachusetts plan currently costs $707 million a year, about half of which comes from the federal government, so the net cost to the state is slightly more than one percent of the state’s total budget, according to an Aug. 26 statement by Jon Kingsdale, executive director of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, which oversees the plan and provides an exchange where residents shop for coverage.
While that cost represents an increase of about 10 percent over the initial 2006 projection, Kingsdale says that is because initial estimates of the eligible uninsured population turned out to be too low.
“What we were able to accomplish was to get almost all of our citizens insured without breaking the bank and without having a so-called public option,” Romney says. “I think the program is a real success and that it can teach lessons to other states, and to the nation.”
Central to the plan was Romney’s recognition that uninsured individuals were costing the state and federal government money because they showed up in emergency rooms for non-emergency care. If they had health insurance, Romney concluded, those government payments to hospitals could be applied to paying to cover the uninsured.
“We said, let’s take the money that the federal government is giving us and that we’re taking from our own state coffers that we use to give to hospitals to give out free care,’ ” Romney says. “Instead, let’s use that money to help low-income people purchase their own private market-based insurance.”
As initially proposed by Romney, “The plan would not have cost the state an additional dollar,” Romney says. “However, the legislature decided to add some features, which are ones that I did not support.”
For example, Romney says, “In my proposal, I said that every individual should have to pay some portion of their healthcare insurance premium. In the final bill, people with low incomes don’t pay anything. Also in my proposal, I said that there should not be any mandates directed to insurance companies as to what insurance policies must include, such as unlimited treatments for in vitro fertilization. Such mandated coverage made the product far more expensive.”
Romney observes that those are legitimate decisions by a legislature.
“I didn’t agree with all of them,” he says. “In some cases, I vetoed those provisions, but they were put back in. And yet in the final analysis, the program is very much in line with the forecasts that were made by the legislature at the time of its passing.”
Some conservatives have focused on the fact the plan covers abortions for a co-pay of $50. While that is true, “that is in fact the product of a liberal court which imposed the requirement because the plan receives government money,” Romney says. The healthcare law itself makes no mention of abortions.
“The Massachusetts plan shows other states and the country that you can get people insured at a modest cost,” Romney says.
While healthcare costs in general have continued to rise in Massachusetts, the problem is a reflection of what is happening throughout the country, Romney says. But by allowing individuals to purchase insurance through a central clearing house, the Massachusetts plan has seen premiums for individual insurance decline by as much as 20 percent, according to Kingsdale’s statement.
In a book he is writing for St. Martin’s Press, Romney says he will propose a way to deal with the problem of rising healthcare costs. As a presidential candidate, Romney proposed helping each state devise its own plan, something that many Republican members of Congress are now pushing. In the meantime, he says President Barack Obama’s push for a public option is a “Trojan horse” intended to eventually replace all private insurance.
“The president says he needs a public option so that people can get greater competition,” Romney notes. “Well look, we have a thousand insurance companies in this country, or more. And if you want more competition, you could simply allow people to buy insurance across state lines, if that’s needed. Some of the biggest insurance companies in America are not for profit, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield.”
Tongue in cheek, I asked Romney if his criticism of Obama means he is a racist, as former President Jimmy Carter has characterized those who criticize a black president.
“Oh my goodness, Jimmy Carter has had a difficult time staying within the bounds of reality I’m afraid,” Romney says. “What an awful thing to say. You’re dealing with a president who has dramatically departed from what people expected of him. His spending and borrowing is massively disturbing to the American people. His cap-and-trade program was going to cost the average American family $1,700 and some odd dollars a year. That’s troubling. And then to go after healthcare, and to suggest that we’re going to move towards a European-type system, makes a lot of people very upset. I don’t care who introduces it, it’s going to be met with a very vocal and in my view appropriate response.”
Romney is widely believed to be preparing to run for president again in 2012. Asked about that possibility, he says, “I’m not thinking about that,” a response that differs from his previous assertions that he would never run again.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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