DON BRUNELL: To get a glimpse of future federal health care, look at Massachusetts

If you want a glimpse of what health care will look like under Obamacare, look at what is going on in Massachusetts.

If you want a glimpse of what health care will look like under Obamacare, look at what is going on in Massachusetts.

In 2006, state lawmakers passed the Massachusetts Health Reform law. It was touted as a wave of the future and was the model for the new federal health reform law. But after a few short years, the law seems less like a wave and more like a sinking ship.

Like Obamacare, the Massachusetts law requires individuals and employers to purchase private health insurance or pay a fine. Like Obamacare, the law expands Medicaid coverage and provides taxpayer subsidies to help people buy insurance.

And like Obamacare, the law was supposed to increase access to health care and lower costs. So far, that hasn’t happened.

While 97 percent of Massachusetts residents now have health insurance, actually getting in to see a doctor is a challenge. ABC News reports that patients wait an average of 50 days to see a doctor in Boston, nearly double the next-longest wait time – 27 days in Philadelphia. Some patients are traveling outside the state to avoid the long waits.

The access problem won’t be resolved any time soon.

The Massachusetts Medical Society reports a critical shortage of family physicians and a severe shortage of internal medicine doctors in Massachusetts. A recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 75 percent of noncrisis emergency room visits occurred because a regular physician was not available after hours and half of these visits occurred because patients couldn’t get a timely appointment with their doctor.

Dr. Lorraine M. Schratz, a pediatric cardiologist in Massachusetts, writes that more than half of all the doctors trained in Massachusetts are leaving the state, and one out of four doctors is considering a career change.

Rather than curb cost increases, post-reform health care costs in Massachusetts have risen faster than the rest of the nation.

Harvard physicians Rachel Nardin, David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler say the reform has been more expensive than expected, costing $1.1 billion in fiscal 2008 and $1.3 billion in fiscal 2009.

One reason is public subsidies. Science Daily reports that the largest increase in enrollment was through the Commonwealth Care program, which provides subsidies for families with incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level – $66,000 for a family of four.

Another reason is that some people are gaming the system, buying insurance only when they need it, then dropping coverage. Charles D. Baker, a former executive with Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, says about 40 percent of the consumers who purchased insurance from his company on the open market kept the insurance fewer than five months. The medical bills they ran up far outpaced what they paid in premiums.

Recently, Massachusetts’ four major health insurance companies posted $150 million losses for the first quarter of 2010. They blamed most of those losses on the state’s decision to cap premium increases for the small group market, a category that covers 800,000 residents who are self-insured or employed by companies with 50 or fewer employees. The insurers had proposed rate increases from 8 to 32 percent for the small group market.

Now, some of those same insurers are warning that they will freeze or slash payments to doctors and hospitals already reeling from overcrowding and reduced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.

Why should we care? Because the Massachusetts health care system is the wave of the future. Obamacare has the same mandates, the same Medicare cuts, the same subsidies, the same price controls. Is there any reason to think the result won’t be the same?

It’s not often that elected officials have an opportunity to peer into the future and see how their policies will work out. Massachusetts has given us that look into the future, and federal officials have a chance to correct the mistakes before it’s too late.

It’s up to us to make sure they do.

Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business.

More in Opinion

Maybe it’s time Congress takes back its power

The Constitution gives Congress the most power of the three branches of government.

Poking dead things with sticks

They don’t mince words when they call it a “crawl space,” do they?

America is denying three hard truths

There are three major hard truths that our current government has been denying with great vigor: The Mueller Russia-U.S. Presidential election connection investigation, the war in Afghanistan, and the growing national deficit.

Promote the common good by ensuring individual liberty

Citizens following their passions and dreams improve the lot for all.

The three personas of President Trump

There’s Teleprompter Trump, Raw Meat Trump and Twitter Trump.

Attitudes change on farming non-native salmon

Their warnings fell on deaf ears, but the tables have turned on the fish farming industry in Washington.

Voting yes on levies means investing in our kids’ future

We are White River graduates. Our parents are White River graduates. Our siblings are White River graduates, and our kids will one day be White River graduates.

Voting for the levy with make a major #impact for our schools

I have four children in Enumclaw public schools and they all benefit from programs that are supported by the renewal of the operational levy.

Great schools mean great communities

As former elected School Board Member, State Legislator and King County Judge, we understand the importance of educating all children.

Political soap opera won’t end until midterm elections

Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as President Trump, have all taken gambles that will shape the November midterms.

A small act of kindness can make a big impact | SoHaPP

Join SoHaPP’s book group this February to discuss “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. Don’t have the book? Check it out at the Enumclaw Library or visit The Sequel.

Vote ‘yes’ on replacement Education Programs levy

As a high school senior that has spent the entirety of my school life in Enumclaw, I know we have to take it upon ourselves to ensure the efficiency and inclusiveness of our school system.