Massachusetts Experiment With UHC A Failure

… except when it isn’t.

Some 439,000 people have signed up for insurance since the plan went into effect in 2006, state officials said in a report released yesterday. (The figures exclude Medicare.) That’s more than two-thirds of the estimated 600,000 who were uninsured in the state two years ago, the Boston Globe reports.

A bit under half of those who have been added to the insurance rolls signed up through the private market, mostly through employer-sponsored plans; the rest joined subsidized state plans.

Indeed, so many people have signed up for insurance that the program is costing far more than expected, and there’s currently a fight in the state over how to pay for it.

Still, there’s a financial upside. The number of people showing up at emergency rooms for routine care — an inefficient, high-cost way to get such care — has fallen 37% since the plan went into effect, the Globe says. That decline has saved the state an estimated $68 million.

First question that pops in to my mind, and one that is not addressed in the article, is how much the state funding for insurance costs is relative to the savings from emergency care being used in a more reasonable fashion. If the expansion is costing the government, say, $75 million a year, then the cost is only slightly more than what was being paid to fund emergency services for the poor previously, while increasing quality since patients are able to see a GP for things like colds and ear infections instead of crowding ERs. The net result is large gains in care for a small amount of money. To argue that isn’t progress requires a total disconnect from reality, or a willing to lie to help your corporate backers. Either way, we’re sure to hear mischaracterization as the health care reform debate fires up after the election.

– Polk