A woman who helped write the new Massachusetts law that’s moving that state toward universal health care coverage for all its citizens was in Iowa earlier this month to talk about the process.
Christie Hager, chief health counsel to the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, says it came down to the public and politicians agreeing that everyone shares responsibility for the problem. “The notion that individuals as well as employers as well as government would all have to contribute to the solution,” Hager says.
The law requires citizens in Massachusetts to carry health insurance, the same way Iowa law requires motorists to buy car insurance. Massachusetts residents who can’t afford health care premiums get coverage paid for by their state government. Businesses in Massachusetts are also are required to pay a fee to the state if they do not provide adequate health care benefits to their employees.
It’s called the “fair share contribution” in Massachusetts law, for businesses that have 10 or more people on the payroll. Employers who don’t provide adequate health care coverage to their workers must pay the state as much as $295 per employee, per year. Hager says it’s one way to level the playing field for businesses who’ve been providing health care benefits while their competitors do not.
The Republican governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, joined with Democratic state legislative leaders to craft the new rules. “It was a bipartisan priority and certainly there were disagreements about how to get to the shared goals, but in the end the consensus was achieved,” Hager says. “It was a long process. It was a difficult process, but it was one that everyone was committed to getting towards.”
Hager says during her visit with Iowa policymakers, she got the impression this state may take some significant action on the issue because Massachusetts has shown people don’t have to wait for Washington to resolve the problems in the health care system. “All of the stakeholders present…are all really energized,” Hager says.