Mass. Universal Health Plan Gets Green Light from Feds

By | July 31, 2006

The federal government has given its approval to a first-in-the-nation program in Massachusetts that will require everyone to carry health insurance.

The state’s universal health insurance program will use a combination of subsidies and penalties to make coverage more affordable and to encourage people to buy it.

“Our ability to now insure every Massachusetts citizen is a historic achievement for both the commonwealth and the nation,” Governor Mitt Romney said in a statement.

The agreement allows the state to continue implementing its revolutionary program in which 100,000 of the poorest people will be added to the federal Medicaid rolls; another 200,000 previously uninusured will receive premium assistance to buy low-cost insurance; while an additional 200,000 will be required to sign up for low-cost programs that will be offered by private insurers.

Overall, the aim of the program is to reduce the number of uninsured covered by the government, while expanding the ranks of those who insure themselves through private programs. It will affect an estimated 500,000 people, and is the first program of its kind in the U.S.

Romney, a Republican considering a 2008 White House campaign, signed the state’s new health care law in April, and since then it has been under review by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Democrat of Massachusetts, lauded the announcement.

“Instead of facing health care cuts, we’re well on our way to achieving our long-standing goal of health care for all,” he said.

The insurance issue has taken a national dimension where many say that a growing number of Americans are either uninsured or forced to pay higher health coverage premiums, particularly as companies increasingly shift the financial burden to employees in a wave of cost-cutting measures.

Critics have said that requiring everyone to carry insurance — a policy known as the “individual mandate” — erodes an individual’s right to choose and is an unacceptable expansion of the state’s power.

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