Editorial: Independent views on health reform
Health care reform is so complicated, and has become so polarizing, that keeping the debates grounded in facts has been a constant struggle. Getting a national health reform bill signed into law hasn't settled anything. Opponents are already pronouncing its failure; proponents touting its success.
That's why evaluations that are independent, thorough and credible deserve notice. This week, two such reports were issued, shedding some light through the partisan murk.
The first report comes from the Rand Corporation, one of the world's largest and most respected public policy analysis firms. In research published in the journal "Health Affairs," Rand tested more than 2,000 health policy scenarios against the goals of reform: to cover the most people at the least expense to the taxpayer.
Rand's "microsimulation model" found that the bill signed into law will cover 28 million previously uninsured Americans more people at a lower cost than all but a handful of scenarios. Only by choosing options Rand deems politically untenable like boosting penalties on individuals who don't buy insurance from the $750 in the law to $1,200 a year would more people get covered for a comparable price.
The second report evaluates the Massachusetts health reform law, which has been a national political football throughout the debate in Washington.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation has been funding studies of the state health reforms since the law was signed in 2006. Its latest evaluation, done by the Urban Institute, confirms the bill is doing pretty much what it was intended to do. Among its findings:
- More than 95 percent of non-elderly adults now have health insurance, compared to 88 percent before the law was passed. Despite fears the new public program would encourage employers to drop insurance, employer-sponsored coverage has increased 2.7 percent.
- The number of people getting preventive care has increased, while the number reporting "unmet needs for care" has dropped.
- Two subgroups lower income adults and adults with chronic health problems reported improvements in quality and affordability of health care since the law went into effect.
- The disparities between minority and white adults in insurance coverage, affordability and access to health care have disappeared under the new law.
- The state reform law remains about as popular as when it took effect in 2006, with two-thirds of Massachusetts adults telling researchers they support the reforms.
As everyone knows, the state reforms haven't brought rising health care costs under control, a challenge the bill's authors say was not a priority at the time. It's a priority now, at both the state and federal level. The next steps in health care reform must build on the last, and will only succeed if we make room in the debate for factual reports from credible sources.
The MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News