Mass. Health Law May Bode Well For Federal Law

Massachusetts has the nation's highest rate of residents with health insurance. Visits to emergency rooms are beginning to ease. More residents are getting cancer screenings and more women are making prenatal doctors' visits. Still, one of the biggest challenges for the state lies ahead: reining in spiraling costs.

Like the federal law it inspired, the Massachusetts law has multiple goals, among them expanding the number of insured residents, reducing emergency room visits, penalizing those who can afford coverage but opt to remain uninsured, and requiring employers to offer coverage or pay a fine.

"Since Gov. Romney signed health care reform here in Massachusetts, more private companies are offering health care to their employees, fewer people are getting primary care in an expensive emergency room setting, and hundreds of thousands of our friends and neighbors have access to care," said Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat and co-chairman of Obama's re-election committee.

Another reason the law remains popular may be that so many Massachusetts residents receive insurance through work and have been largely untouched by its penalties. The Blue Cross Blue Shield study found 68 percent of non-elderly adults received coverage through their employers in 2010, up from about 64 percent in 2006.

The study also found no evidence to support one fear lawmakers had when they approved the law - that employers or workers might drop coverage because of the availability of public coverage. Another indication of the law's acceptance in Massachusetts is the reduction in the number of those assessed a tax penalty for failing to have insurance despite being able to afford it.

Massachusetts is the only state with an individual mandate, although the Supreme Court last week upheld the constitutionality of a similar mandate in the federal law. Despite the penalty, most polls place support for the initiative at more than 60 percent, about double the approval rate for the federal health care law.

Supporters say the more people begin to understand the benefits of the federal law, the more support for the federal law should increase. The charge that the law has been a "budget-buster" in Mass has also been challenged.

A recent study by the business-backed Mass Taxpayers Foundation found that during the five full fiscal years since it was implemented, the law has cost the state an additional $91 million a year after federal reimbursements - well within initial projections.

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