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State health insurance law starting to make a difference

May 01, 2008

Thursday, May 1, 2008
By Richard T. Moore
(c) Telegram & Gazette

While the national uninsured rate continues to rise, two years after the historic launch of Massachusetts Health Care reform more than 300,000 formerly uninsured individuals now have health coverage.

That is a remarkable achievement by any measure. For our health care system, the change means quality care for more Massachusetts residents that is also cost-effective.

There are signs that we are headed in the right direction. A recent report by the state demonstrates that the law is already reducing state-paid free care. As enrollment in the state's Medicaid and the Commonwealth Care insurance programs has increased, the number of free-care visits has decreased by 16 percent.

This trend away from reliance on high-cost emergency and specialty care - and toward comprehensive insurance coverage and access to preventative primary care - takes the state one step closer to building a better health care system.

But what does this mean for someone who is newly insured?

One of my constituents in North Uxbridge can now afford the six medications she neds to take each day to control her chronic illness. Before obtaining health insurance through Commonwealth Care, she was paying about $500 per month for medications that are essential for keeping her healthier and living an active, productive life.

Now she pays about $6 a month for savings of over $5,900 a year.

Research has shown that providing affordable health coverage to more residents lowers overall health care costs. Uninsured patients often seek only sporadic care in costly emergency rooms or, worse, postpone necessary medical care and end up in the hospital. With insurance, patients feel empowered to see a doctor before they get too sick.

Even better, many develop a relationship with a primary care doctor and take advantage of disease prevention and wellness programs that can make their lives measurably healthier.

Our region's community health centers - Family Health Center of Worcester, Great Brook Valley Health Center and Tri-River Family Health Center - are examples of where and how the new health reform efforts are working.

These health centers are actively enrolling local residents into health insurance programs and making a real difference in the health of their communities through primary and preventive care, disease management programs and wellness initiatives that emphasize the benefits of nutrition and exercise.

While other states are struggling to provide health care to their residents, Massachusetts has made real progress in providing more residents with comprehensive, quality, affordable coverage that allows them to access preventative care. Our state has the programs and the support of a broad coalition of political, health care, business and consumer leaders to make it a reality.

When you consider the alternative - increasing numbers of uninsured, unsustainable health care costs and lower quality - is there really another choice?

Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, is Senate Chairman of the Committee on Health Care Financing.