Mass. Political Leaders Unveil Competing Health Plans

April 7, 2005

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Senate President Robert Travaglini rolled out competing health care plans this week, both of which aim to greatly reduce the numbers of uninsured residents.

The Republican governor says his plan will provide insurance to virtually everyone in the state by 2009, while the Senate president, a Democrat, has set a goal of providing coverage to half the 530,000 uninsured Massachusetts residents by the end of 2006.

“The time has come to start a dialogue on real health care reform,” Travaglini told a breakfast gathering of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. “We all have an obligation to fix the existing health care system so that it continues to take care of the sick, the poor and the uninsured.”

Travaglini said his bill would encourage insurers to offer affordable coverage to self-employed workers, small business employees and others who can’t pay for health care. It would boost Medicaid payments by at least $90 million yearly to hospitals and doctors that are losing millions of dollars by treating the uninsured.

The plan would also rein in costs and allow patients to compare prices and care quality to boost competition, he said.

“We can unleash market forces to help contain costs,” he said.

He declined to specify how much the plan would cost or how it would be paid for, saying the details would be available later this week.

Romney has previously outlined much of his “Commonwealth Care” plan, which he said could provide coverage to all the state’s uninsured without any additional costs to taxpayers.

He said a top goal is to bring down the cost of a basic insurance plan from about $350 a month to about $200 for an individual in part by limiting the type of coverage and boosting deductibles. That could put insurance within reach of working families of four making a minimum of at least $54,000 who don’t get health care through their employers, Romney said.

The bill would also create a state standards board to outline what type of coverage should be included in the basic plan, which will be offered by private insurers who meet the state requirements.

Romney said under his plan the state would also work to get more people signed up for Medicaid programs who qualify but aren’t currently enrolled.

Poor residents who can’t afford even the lower cost coverage but aren’t eligible for Medicaid would be covered under Romney’s plan.

“We’re at a point where we can have health care for everyone in the commonwealth,” Romney said on WBZ-AM radio.

Romney said the plan would help hospitals which currently have to pick up part of the cost of treating the uninsured. He said the plan could also encourage entrepreneurs by not tying insurance so closely to work.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that in order to have insurance your employer has to line that up for you,” he said. “You ought to be able to get your insurance yourself.”

Romney has previously said it’s possible to cut monthly premiums by allowing insurers to offer plans with fewer benefits. The proposed basic care would provide primary, preventive, specialty and catastrophic care, but with higher deductibles and more restrictions. It would not have to cover expensive elective care, such as in-vitro fertilization.

Romney has also said consumers would be urged not to patronize businesses that fail to provide employee health care coverage and companies would be required to post publicly whether they offer such a benefit. If the minimum wage is increased, companies that do not provide health coverage would have to pay a higher wage under the plan.

Health care advocates have said they are hopeful that the renewed focus on health care may yield real results, but said they are skeptical health insurance can be extended to all Massachusetts residents without additional tax dollars.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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