The Massachusetts health care reform law of 2006, which mandated and facilitated health insurance for virtually all residents, had an immediate and significant impact on death rates, a study published this week finds.
Researchers found that rates fell by 2.9 percent in Massachusetts between 2007 and 2010, while remaining flat in similar counties nationally. Counties with more low-income and previously uninsured people saw the largest decreases – about 7 percent in Suffolk County (Boston), for example. Death rates are the most basic and most readily available measures of overall health, and are relatively unaffected by varying diagnostic standards.
This success should be gratifying for all citizens of the commonwealth, as it certainly is for those of us who participated in shaping and implementing the law. The compromises and shared responsibility that were part of that process, often involving controversial issues, are now justified by the most clear-cut bottom line of all.
From the employer viewpoint, it is particularly notable that the study focused on people aged 20 to 64 – working-age adults. The diminution of the death rate and presumed improvement of health status among this population strongly suggests that despite the additional costs incurred, the move towards universal coverage brings real economic benefits. This is, of course, a major reason that nearly all AIM member-employers already offered employee health benefits before 2007.
The new study provides hard evidence that health care reform based on shared responsibility and mandatory participation really can succeed, if it is implemented properly. The problems surrounding the federal Affordable Care Act are attributable in large part to the absence at the national level of the unified will to make reform work that we had in Massachusetts. With thousands of lives evidently at stake it is time, and past time, to put political deadlock behind us and for the federal government to provide flexibility Massachusetts and other states that have already succeeded in making people healthier.