I know there are some people out there for whom even the slightest mention of the state of Massachusetts in a positive context–or even no context at all–is anathema. So, I am hereby warning those of you who break out in the equivalent of psychological/emotional hives when you hear the Bay State praised, that you are going to get a pretty good dose of just that in this column. Find your Benadryl and take it now.

Of course we are familiar with all the so-called reasons that Massachusetts has become a beloved symbol to conservatives of everything they hate about what they see as its unbridled liberalism: the Kennedys, the state’s epithet as Taxachusetts, being the first state to legalize gay marriage, reveling in the label of being the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, and probably many others I’ve forgotten or never heard.

So, why do I love Massachusetts? Let me count the ways. Or rather, let’s just concentrate on the most recent reason for heaping hosannas on the 10,555 square miles that comprise the Old Colony, stretching from the tip of Cape Cod in the east to the Berkshires in the west, and from Longmeadow in the south to Lowell in the north.

I’m talking, of course, about the universal health insurance bill that was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of the state legislature and which a very conservative Republican governor, Mitt Romney, may have already signed into law by the time you read this piece.

No doubt for some this will be yet one more reason to see red when the state is mentioned, but this legislation–the first such in the nation–is a product of compromise and of crafting together of various pieces of the health care puzzle.

And this is not to mention how judiciously it uses money to achieve a long yearned-for goal–ensuring health coverage for all citizens. And how cleverly it uses the tax system so all segments of society that can afford to pay their fair share pay it, while those who can’t afford it will be subsidized so they can buy the health insurance the law requires each citizen to have by July 1, 2007.

You can read the myriad details in Allison Bell’s story on page 7, but I’d like to quote some reactions to the bill from The New York Times story on April 5.

Here’s one: “This is probably about as close as you can get to universal,” said Paul B. Ginsburg, president of the nonpartisan Center for Studying Health System Change in Washington. “It’s definitely going to be inspiring to other states about how there was this compromise. They found a way to get to a major expansion of coverage that people could agree on. For a conservative Republican, this is individual responsibility. For a Democrat, this is government helping those that need help.”

Here’s another: “It’s not a typical Massachusetts-Taxachusetts, oh-just-crazy-liberal plan,” said Stuart H. Altman, a professor of health policy at Brandeis University. “It isn’t that at all. It is a pretty moderate approach, and that’s what’s impressive about it. It tried to borrow and blend a lot of different pieces.”

Wouldn’t it be great if Massachusetts–Massachusetts!–was the state that led the way for all others in finally–finally!– dealing with the intractable problem of the uninsured in an affordable way?

Just one more reason, Massachusetts, to love you.

Steve Piontek