Mandating Health Insurance Coverage

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

A few weeks back I blogged on how several states are now requiring employer-sponsored health plans to offer coverage to “children” into their twenties, in most cases even if they are no longer full-time students in an attempt to address the high uninsured rate among young adults.

Massachusetts is the latest state to take a stab at its uninsured population.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, signed a sweeping healthcare reform bill intended to cover 90 percent to 95 percent of the uninsured in Massachusetts over the next three years. It requires everyone in the state to buy health insurance by July 1, 2007.

Starting July 1, 2008, individuals without health insurance will lose the portion of their state tax refund equal to 50 percent of an affordable health insurance premium, and monthly penalties will be assessed.

Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis for the Harvard School of Public Health, said there was no official determination, when the legislation was passed, on what is and is not “affordable” health insurance. A committee is supposed to come up with so-called “objective standards,” he said.

Under the law, a new entity called the Commonwealth Care Health Insurance Connector will be created to allow individuals to buy “affordable” health plans on a pretax basis, according to Romney’s office.

This mechanism is unique because it will contract with private health insurers to provide individuals insurance at a pretax, group rate, said Blendon.

This bellweather state will be closely watched to see what impact this reform bill has. How will consumers respond to the mandate? What impact will the “affordable” health plan have on healthcare costs? Will insurers be willing to write these plans?

If successful in Massachusetts, this could become a national model for addressing the problem of the uninsured.

And maybe it’s not such a bad model. In all other aspects of healthcare, consumers are being given more responsibility – from deciding what providers to use to determining what treatments to seek and how to spend money in the HSA.

All states require that consumers purchase insurance for their cars; maybe it’s not such a bad idea to require insurance for ourselves!

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