One of a series of analyses on the 10th anniversary of the 2006 Massachusetts health care overhaul. Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, a Democrat from Jamaica Plain, is the House chair of the Joint Committee On Health Care Financing.
In the 10 years since Chapter 58, Massachusetts’ landmark health care law, the legislature, working with its partners in industry and advocacy, has continued to prioritize health care reform and innovation.
Chapter 58 created an opportunity for my colleagues, policy experts, patients, providers, payers and others in the field to think seriously about the kind of health care system we wanted in the commonwealth. Even those who had previously never given much thought to health care were driven to think creatively about solutions to long-existing challenges. Of course, our efforts were only successful due to steady support from Massachusetts residents and their desire for change.
One goal of Chapter 58 was to increase health care coverage such that every resident was insured. Today, Massachusetts has the highest rate of insurance coverage in the country, a big accomplishment in light of still significant rates of uninsurance across the U.S. Chapter 58 was also a national achievement: Massachusetts was the first state to require citizens to have health insurance, and it served as a model for the Affordable Care Act. This continues to be a source of pride for our commonwealth.
Chapter 58 set the stage for an important ongoing conversation about how to balance mandatory health insurance coverage while understanding the struggles of low-income and minority communities to obtain jobs with health insurance benefits. To start that conversation, Chapter 58 established a Health Disparities Council. The Council’s purpose was to understand the factors that contribute to health disparities and make recommendations to reduce disparities in access to services as well as health outcomes. Massachusetts has made significant progress to eliminate health disparities, but more is needed. Latinos are still almost three times more likely to be without health coverage compared to Caucasians.
Massachusetts remains an innovative leader in the health care arena as reform efforts continue. Legislators understood that increasing health insurance coverage would increase costs, but that was a chance we were willing to take to ensure all Massachusetts residents had equitable access to health care. High premiums and out-of-pocket costs are making it difficult for our citizens to access much needed care even with near universal coverage. Building on the legacy of Chapter 58, the legislature took an important first step towards tackling cost with the passage of legislation in 2012 that created a cost growth benchmark, among other provisions. Yet we know that our work is still not done. As a policymaker, I am excited by the challenge before us to continue improving our health care system.