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UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Editorial

Health care is a vital necessity. Reasonable people may differ as to whether health care is a “right” to be provided by a government or whether it is better left to private entities, but the fact is that all of us will require medical attention at some point in our lives. Knowing this the Massachusetts legislature, led by Governor Romney and Senator Kennedy, have forged a bipartisan bill to ensure that all Massachusetts residents are afforded health insurance. It is an admirable effort, and we at the Mass Media applaud the initiative. It is an innovative bill and bespeaks Massachusetts’ reputation as an innovative and forward-looking state. The bill requires all Massachusetts residents to be insured by July 1st 2007. This includes the roughly one-hundred-thousand citizens who qualify for Medicare but have not signed up. Also covered are the working poor and lower-middle class who make too much money to qualify for free care but cannot afford health insurance. Those who make up to 100% of the federal poverty level ($9,800 for an individual in 2006) will not have to pay premiums or deductibles. Those making between one and three hundred percent will pay part of their premiums on a sliding scale. Governor Romney specifically is to be commended for his efforts in getting the business community to sign on. It is an achievement; businesses, after all, will be footing much of the bill. The state government’s end includes the majority of its annual $385 million Medicare allotment (more on Medicare later). Also going into the kitty will be money that the state sets aside to cover emergency-room visits made by the uninsured. Invested into this plan, that money can now go to work for our citizens instead of simply being spent off in a series of one-time transactions. This seems a prudent use of our taxpayer dollars, and is one of the more exciting aspects of the 145-page bill. The estimated cost to the state is in the neighborhood of $316 million dollars and is expected to rise to more than a billion dollars within three years, with money coming from federal reimbursements and by re-channeling pre-existing health expenditures. Businesses who already insure their employees should not see a dramatic change. Other businesses will be required to opt into coverage plans for their employees or face paying a penalty of $295 a year per employee. This is a head-scratcher; insurance coverage, as any boss will tell you, is not cheap. We suspect that the low penalty rate is the result of a compromise made in order to convince the business community to sign on. It makes cold fiscal sense to simply swallow the penalty as a cost of doing business. But, too, having healthy employees has its own logic. The individual penalty for not signing in is around $150 for the first year, with the penalty escalating to $1200 annually thereafter. Compared to the penalty businesses face this seems harsh, but why would one not seek health insurance if it were made readily available? What this bill does not address is the fiscal burden Medicare and Medicaid place on our state budget. Our health care system needs to be fixed. It has been estimated that Medicare will bankrupt every state in the nation by 2020, and this bill will not solve that. What it does do is ensure that nearly all Massachusetts residents are afforded medical coverage- quality coverage, we hope- and so it could in the long run save the state money. Those emergency room visits made by people with no coverage came often after they had put off hospital visits until their situations had grown desperate. Insured, they can now seek help for their conditions. Anything that brings people necessary care is welcome, but it is too early to judge this bill. Whether it provides a positive in extending care to the majority of our citizens at the cost of busting our budget and worsening our business climate remains to be seen. We support this bill, but with reservations.