Bay State Could Guarantee Universal Health Care

July 19, 2004 ( - Bay State lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing affordable health-care coverage to all state residents.

During a constitutional convention July 14, the Massachusetts House and Senate together voted 152-41 in favor of amending the state’s constitution and making it the Legislature’s duty to make sure all state residents have access to comprehensive health insurance coverage, according to a BestWire news report. The coverage would be for all medically necessary preventive, acute and chronic health-care and mental-health services, prescription drugs and devices.

The initiative doesn’t include a specific plan to make such benefits available to all Massachusetts residents, but puts the monkey on the Legislature’s back to develop a particular proposal. However, legislators added a provision that would require voters to vote on a plan once it’s developed, which could be as soon as the 2008 election.

The change in the amendment addressed the principal fear of the Legislature – that implementing a plan may require raising taxes, according to the story. However, some lawmakers believe that every resident in the state could have health-care benefits without raising taxes.

Because taxpayers poured $700 million into an uncompensated care pool during the last fiscal year, and the uninsured and underinsured spent $1.5 billion themselves on health care, the committee estimated that $2.5 billion in savings could be achieved through information-management upgrades and about $1 billion in avoidable hospital costs each year. That totals $5.7 billion for the 644,000 uninsured in the state, or $9,000 for each uninsured, according to the story.  

Making health care more affordable is a focus in several states. Recently in Maine, the governor signed into law a universal health bill that will create a state plan called the Dirigo Health Plan, a voluntary private insurance option for small businesses with 50 or fewer workers and individuals (See  Maine Governor Inks Universal Health Care Bill ).  California has enacted an employer mandate, which currently is the subject of a court fight (See CA Firm Unveils Managed Care Ed. Program ).