NPR aired two stories over the last two days looking in depth at Massachusetts health care reform, and the prospects for cost control. The stories (audio and transcripts for both stories are here), by veteran NPR health report Richard Knox, are good summation of where we are, and where we're going in Massachusetts health policy.
The first story, looking at the current status of chapter 58, checks in with business owner Dieufort "Keke" Fleurissaint. Back in the 2005-2006 days, Keke was a GBIO leader, speaking movingly about the critical need to find affordable coverage for his employees. Back then he was featured in a Channel 5 report on the May 2005 GBIO campaign kick-off, and then after the law passed, the Blue Cross Foundation included him in their "Voices of Reform" video project for their 2008 summit.
Today, Keke's still happy with the law:
"Close to 500,000 people didn't have health insurance," Fleurissaint says. "Now, because of the passing of the law, they have health insurance."
And one of them, it turns out, is Fleurissaint. He used to be a mortgage broker, but his business crashed in 2008. He couldn't pay his health insurance premiums.
But under the new law, Fleurissaint qualified for state-subsidized insurance.
"My premium ... dropped from $1,200 on a monthly basis [to] $770 for the same coverage for the same family of four," he says. And when his income dropped again during the recession, so did his health insurance costs.
"The law has been extremely good for me," he says, but he admits that not all his business colleagues like the law.
But Knox looks for business opposition, and doesn't find much. The Mass Restaurant Association said all of its members offer coverage. Bill Vernon, head of the NFIB, a vocal opponent of health reform in 2005, opposes the ACA but now says the law "works for Massachusetts." "My guess is that we would probably be pretty much split on the issue of whether to repeal the law or not. That suggests repeal is not something we would favor. And I don't think it's politically realistic, either."
Knox also finds real progress on the cost control front. He reports on Blue Cross and other insurers move to global payments, and the impact the administration pressure and DOI's rate review process had in moderating rates for 2012. Governor Patrick is not letting the lull in premium growth distract him from the need for comprehensive legislation:
[Governor Patrick] says Massachusetts needs to pass some legislation to lock in these changes and go further: cut down on administrative costs, reform the malpractice system, and other steps.
The big idea you hear being talked about these days is to hold total health spending to a target tied to the state's overall economic growth.
PATRICK: What I want to assure, and why I think we need legislation, is that it's sustainable, that we don't continue to have increases above the rate of growth in the economy, so that over time, without a check on that, health care eats up everything else.
Knox ends the report with "If Massachusetts can do that, it might become a national model again."
Putting Massachusetts in the national spotlight ups the ante for our payment reform legislation. We hear from legislative sources that bill drafting is happening now, and that a bill might emerge during March. Our Campaign For Better Care is talking around the state, and up at the State House, every day. GBIO is fully engaged. We're moving.