A Massachusetts healthcare reform surprise: It works

Contrary to what you may have heard from Bill O'Reilly, universal healthcare is not breaking the bank

Published August 5, 2009 6:46PM (EDT)

Why isn't this being shouted from every mountaintop by the Obama administration? Mark Thoma points us to a Boston Globe editorial that makes a strong case that universal healthcare reform in Massachusetts is not breaking the bank.

I know -- you've heard otherwise. As the Globe points out, the Massachusetts healthcare reform experiment has become a popular talking point for the right wing. Bill O'Reilly says it's a "mess" and a "disaster." Ross Douthat, the new conservative Op-Ed columnist in the New York Times, says it is "currently hemorrhaging money."

But is it?

The facts -- according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation -- are quite different. Its report this spring put the cost to the state taxpayer at about $88 million a year, less than four-tenths of 1 percent of the state budget of $27 billion. Yes, the state recently had to cut benefits for legal immigrants, and safety-net hospital Boston Medical Center has sued for higher state aid. But that is because the recession has cut state revenues, not because universal healthcare is a boondoggle. The main reason costs to the state have been well within expectations? More than half of all the previously uninsured got coverage by buying into their employers' plans, not by opting for one of the state-subsidized plans....

It will be proportionately more expensive nationally to provide coverage for the uninsured than it has been here simply because the state began the task with a much lower rate of uninsured, 7 percent, compared with the US rate of 17 percent. But a national plan that relies, as Massachusetts' does, on both government-subsidized insurance and a mandate on employers to offer insurance or pay a penalty (in Massachusetts' case, a very small penalty) should be able to cover nearly everyone without busting the budget.

When people like Art "supply-side" Laffer are on television warning of the horrors that might happen if the government takes over Medicare (!) I guess we shouldn't be surprised to learn that opponents of healthcare reform are misrepresenting what is happening in Massachusetts. But the most frustrating aspect to the healthcare debate is the anti-side seems much louder and their talking points are much clearer. The Boston Globe makes a compelling counter-argument. Let's hear more of it.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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