At the recent annual meeting of America’s Health Insurance Plans in San Diego (dubbed Institute 2006), it became clear to me why a conservative Republican like Mitt Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts, which is widely credited to be the most liberal state in the Union.
Romney, keynoting at the AHIP meeting about the recently passed universal health plan in his state, is silky and photogenic–like a movie version of what a governor should be. You can visualize thousands and thousands of voters who might disagree with his views saying they’re willing to forget all that just to have him representing the state as its head of government because he looks so good. But he’s obviously got some substance, too.
In any case, Romney was refreshingly forthright on how the program came about. “I didn’t plan to have this plan,” he said. “I thought it was impossible.” But then someone whose advice he valued told him, ‘If you want to help people, find a way to get them health insurance.’
Massachusetts was facing the same health insurance problems most states face: double-digit annual increases in premium; half a million people uninsured; many small businesses dropping health insurance; and significant barriers to individuals and small businesses who want to buy coverage.
Adding pressure to finding answers to these conditions was that the state was in danger of losing a Medicaid waiver that brought in funds to the tune of $385 million. So, it had to come up with a way to prevent that loss, the governor said.
The state also had something that most other states don’t: Hospitals are mandated to provide emergency care, which is costing something close to $1.2 billion a year. The state has been collecting about $1 billion a year that goes into a pool to reimburse providers who give free care.
In what must have been an ‘aha’ moment, Romney said his team thought, ‘If we’re already paying for care, can’t we get these people health insurance?’
We’ve already reported on many of the details of this program that Romney and the Democratic legislature hammered out between them.