The Boston Globe is out with the second installment in its series examining Massachusetts’ landmark 2006 health care reform law. Part one explored Mitt Romney’s role in shaping the measure and part two makes a pretty convincing argument that Romney’s signature accomplishment has been successful in expanding access to coverage:
– The percentage of residents without insurance coverage is down dramatically, to less than 2 percent; for children, the figure is a tiny fraction of 1 percent, a state survey shows. These are by far the lowest rates in the nation.
– Many more businesses are offering insurance to employees than were before the law. The fear going in was that the opposite would happen.
– The cost of the changes, while large, has proved manageable thus far, though there are some serious warning signs on the horizon, especially as federal stimulus funds, which have helped defray the cost, run out.
– The plan remains exceptionally popular among state residents — indeed its popularity has only grown with time. There are some unhappy sectors — notably small business owners, who had hoped to see moderating premiums and chafe, in some cases, at the heavy-handed enforcement of the rules by the state. And support for the requirement that individuals obtain insurance is down to a slender majority, a recent poll shows. But there is no significant constituency here for repeal.
– And while health care costs continue to grow at alarming rates, as they have nationally, the consensus of industry leaders and health care economists is that this trend cannot be fairly traced to the makeover but rather to cost pressures baked into the existing health care payment system. Massachusetts does have the highest health care costs in the nation, but it owned this dubious distinction long before “RomneyCare’’ was born.
All of this complicates Romney’s efforts to backtrack from the law, but it also presents an even larger challenge to Republicans who seek to condemn Romneycare and tout their own “free market” health care accomplishments. The fact of the matter is that when you get past all of the attacks, no other state has been able to dramatically reduce the number of uninsured and increase the percentage of residents in private health insurance. Pawlenty, Huntsman and the rest may be eager to battle it out with Romney on health care, but in doing so, they’re asking voters to compare their own meager accomplishments to the Bay State’s successful near universal coverage expansion. It’s not a very flattering comparison and one that Romney should exploit (if he thinks conservative primary voters care about helping the uninsured).