Wednesday, March 17, 2010

RomneyCare update

Longtime readers of this blog are already aware that RomneyCare -- a package of health care reform measures enacted in Massachusetts in 2006 to provide universal insurance coverage -- is shaping up as quite the disaster. While failed state-level efforts at improving health care through expanded government intervention are nothing new, RomneyCare is particularly instructive as it is essentially a scaled-down version of the current health care reform legislation in Congress. Just call it the Mini-Me of ObamaCare or ObamaCare Jr.

Now in the midst of our health care debate comes fresh evidence of RomneyCare's vast problems from none other than the Massachusetts state treasurer, who warns that enactment of RomneyCare on a national level would bankrupt the country and ruin the economy:
Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill – a former Democrat running as an independent for governor – said the local plan enacted in 2006 has succeeded only because of huge subsidies and favorable regulatory changes from the federal government.

“Who, exactly, is going to bail out the federal government if this plan goes national?” he asked.

Cahill made his remarks after Gov. Deval L. Patrick, a Democrat, accused him and Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles D. Baker of being silent amid the state and national health care debates.

Cahill cited quotations in which he has called for the state to abandon its plan, and for the federal government not to match it.

He also gave reporters a copy of a recent state ledger sheet, showing the state’s Medicaid program ballooning from $7.5 billion to a projected $9.2 billion since the plan was adopted. Meanwhile, of the 407,000 newly insured, only 32 percent paid for private insurance wholly by themselves.

The remainder have received partial or total taxpayer subsidies to buy the insurance coverage required by the plan.

The Obama administration is asking the House and Senate to approve a national plan that includes a similar “individual mandate,” as well as an entity designed to match buyers with private health insurance plans.

Cahill said the Massachusetts equivalent, the Connector, had assisted only 5 percent of those who bought private insurance without any type of government assistance.

And he said that while the Massachusetts program has increased access to health insurance, it has nothing to rein in underlying cost increases, meaning it is steering more people to a broken system.

“If President (Barack) Obama and the Democrats repeat the mistake of the health insurance reform adopted here in Massachusetts on a national level, they will threaten to wipe out the American economy within four years,” the treasurer said.
Cahill is hardly alone in his indictment of the Massachusetts experiment. Writing in today's Wall Street Journal, Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute says RomneyCare has not achieved many of its stated aims. Among the deleterious effects include a growing strain on the supply of health care professionals:
The Bay State is also suffering from what the Massachusetts Medical Society calls a "critical shortage" of primary-care physicians. As one would expect, expanded insurance has caused an increase in demand for medical services. But there hasn't been a corresponding increase in the number of doctors.

As a result, many patients are insured in name only: They have health coverage but can't find a doctor. Fifty-six percent of Massachusetts internal medicine physicians no longer are accepting new patients, according to a 2009 physician work-force study conducted by the Massachusetts Medical Society. For new patients who do get an appointment with a primary-care doctor, the average waiting time is 44 days, the Medical Society found.As Dr. Sandra Schneider, the vice president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, told the Boston Globe last April, "Just because you have insurance doesn't mean there's a [primary care] physician who can see you."

The difficulties in getting primary care have led to an increasing number of patients who rely on emergency rooms for basic medical services. Emergency room visits jumped 7% between 2005 and 2007. Officials have determined that half of those added ER visits didn't actually require immediate treatment and could have been dealt with at a doctor's office—if patients could have found one.

Mr. Romney insists that in Massachusetts, "We didn't do what President Obama's doing, which is putting controls on our system of premiums for private insurance companies."

But that is what's happening now: Faced with soaring medical expenses, Gov. Deval Patrick, Mr. Romney's successor, wants to cap insurance rate increases at 4.8%, not the 8% to 32% increases the companies have requested for April 1. Three of the four major health insurers in Massachusetts showed operating losses for 2009. If their rates are capped, they say they'll be forced to cut payments to health providers, putting further pressure on doctors and fragile hospitals.
RomneyCare is a gaze over the precipice as Congressional Democrats and the Obama Administration march the country towards the health care cliff.

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