Mass. Makes History By Making Health Coverage Compulsory

By | April 13, 2006

Massachusetts has a new law making health insurance compulsory for individuals.

In a ceremony with national implications held in historic Faneuil Hall in Boston, Gov. Mitt Romney, who has shown interest in running for president, signed the major health insurance plan into law, but not before vetoing a provision that would impose a $295 per worker fee on employers that do not offer coverage. Romney said the fee was unnecessary and insignificant.

At the ceremony, Republican Romney was flanked by state Democratic leaders and U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). The Democrat-controlled state legislature is expected to override the veto of that provision.

In support of the employer fee, Democrats argue that all parties, small employers included, should be required to participate in some way to help achieve universal health coverage. They note that large employers in the state already pay a surcharge to cover the medical costs of the uninsured.

Romney’s political move on the employer fee added a slight chill to an otherwise warm and optimistic gathering of the state’s political leaders.

“You may well have fired the shot heard round the world on health care in America. I hope so,” Sen. Kennedy said.
Supporters think the law could extend coverage to about 515,000 of the state’s 550,000 uninsured when fully implemented, although even they recognize that there are some unsettled details and long-term funding questions.

The law requires individuals who do not get insurance through their workplace or another federal or state programs to obtain a health insurance policy from the private market by July 1, 2007. Citizens who can afford it will be penalized on their state income taxes if they do not buy coverage. Those who cannot afford the estimated $300-$400 monthly premiums may receive subsidies, based on their income. Money from the state’s free medical care pool is to be used to pay these subsidies.

The plan includes a central clearinghouse where individuals and small businesses can choose from all private policies available. It also makes it easier for small employers and individuals to use pre-tax dollars to pay premiums.

“This isn’t 100 percent of what anyone in this room wanted,” Romney said at the signing. “But the differences between us are small.”

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