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July 21, 2009
5:51 PM

CONTACT: Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA)

Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Congress Copying Massachusetts' Failing Healthcare?

WASHINGTON - July 21 -
Woolhandler is a primary care physician at Cambridge Hospital and associate professor at Harvard Medical School who has studied and written about the Massachusetts healthcare plan.

She said today: "As Washington politicians climb on-board a Massachusetts-style health reform, Massachusetts healthcare sinks.

"Congress seems poised to include an individual mandate in health reform, copying Massachusetts. Here, beating your wife, communicating a terrorist threat and being uninsured all carry $1,000 fines.

"The 2006 Massachusetts reform halved the state's already low uninsurance rate -- mostly by expanding Medicaid and similar programs at great public expense.

"But reform hasn't made care affordable for middle class families, or for the public treasury. A middle income uninsured 56-year-old is now forced to lay out at least $4,800 for a policy with a $2,000 deductible before it pays for any care, and 20 percent co-payments after that. Overpriced, skimpy coverage like this left one in six Massachusetts residents unable to pay their medical bills last year. Among INSURED residents in the state, 18 percent say they skipped care because they couldn't afford it.

"Meanwhile, health costs continue to rise; our state Senate is planning to drop 28,000 people from the insurance rolls, and public hospitals and clinics have suffered draconian cuts as the governor diverts their funding to shore up the reform. The state just cut the budget of Boston Medical Center, the state's largest safety net provider, by $180 million. Cuts to Cambridge Health Alliance, the second largest safety net provider, have forced closure of half of its psychiatric services and six of its community clinics.

"Massachusetts' experience prefigures the ugly reality of the reform plans on the table in Washington. Searching for the $100-$150 billion extra they'd need each year just to cover the uninsured, Congress threatens to tax health benefits for those who are currently insured, effectively increasing the price. And they'd drain Medicare and Medicaid funds from safety net hospitals, anticipating a sharp drop in those unable to pay for care -- a drop that never really materialized in Massachusetts."

Woolhandler testified before the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on June 24 in Washington.



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