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Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Senator Warren: "Our experience in Massachusetts suggests that it might be prudent to take a deep breath"

Senator Warren: "Our experience in Massachusetts suggests that it might be prudent to take a deep breath"

November 5, 2013


At today's Obamacare hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, Senator Elizabeth Warren brought in the voice of experience - the Massachusetts health reform experience.

In her question to federal CMS adminstrator Marylyn Tavenner, Senator Warren repeated a line from last week's Faneuil Hall event with President Obama and Governor Patrick: "Health reform in Massachusetts, like the Affordable Care Act, is not a website, it’s a values statement."

She pointed out that enrollment in Massachusetts started slow and closed fast, with very few enrollments in the early months, and a surge in late 2007, right before the individual mandate took effect.

What I can tell you all from the experience is that getting everyone into a new health care system wasn’t easy and it wasn’t quick....

But because we were committed to making the law work, and making sure people had affordable health care, we kept working on it. We fixed the problems, we hit the pavement , we did whatever it took to get people signed up.

What we learned in Massachusetts is that when it comes to enrolling in health care, many of us wait until the end to get it done.

She also reminded Washington about our initial website glitches and other enrollment snafus. But that did not result in delaying or closing down the program. "We kept working on it because we stayed focused on what mattered – our conviction that no one deserved to be bankrupted or shut out of the health care system when they got sick."

Senator Warren got it right. In fact, over the past 7 years, under both the Romney and Patrick administrations, and several Health Connector leaders, state officials worked closely with advocates and stakeholders on a number of enrollment issues that arose. Poorly-worded questions on enrollment forms were fixed, or eliminated, and over time enrollment issues got better and easier. With the implementation of the ACA in Massachusetts, new challenges have arisen, and state and Health Connector staff are working extraordinarily hard to meet these challenges.

We commend and thank Senator Warren for her history lesson today.
-Brian Rosman