27 March 2012

Massachusetts Law Didn't Hurt Businesses After All

Story first appeared in the Detroit Free Press.

Massachusetts was a forerunner to the federal government's health care overhaul, adopting comprehensive changes that took effect in 2007, three years before the Affordable Care Act.

The state law did not hurt businesses as many feared, according to a recent report from the state. It is conducted annually by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation.

Some highlights:

* Employers keep coverage: Some 91% of Massachusetts workers are employed by firms with health coverage, a figure that has held steady since 2006.

* Workers like their health plans: More than seven of every 10 workers rated their health plans as very good or excellent, and rated both the quality of their care and satisfaction with it higher than in pre-revision years.

* Small businesses are not hurt by public plans: Employer-sponsored coverage remains steady at small businesses, with more than 70% retaining coverage for employees between 2006 and 2010.

* Premiums are rising: Monthly insurance premiums for people with workplace coverage continue to rise in Massachusetts at rates higher than those nationwide. That's partly because the state did not have as many cost-savings programs as the new federal law requires, according to health policy experts. Federal health officials hope to achieve many savings by restructuring the federal Medicare program into a high-quality, cost-saving plan, an option Massachusetts does not have.

By 2009, the average annual employee contribution to premiums for Massachusetts plans was $1,321 for an individual and $4,088 for a family, compared with $957 for a single person and $3,474 for a family nationwide, according to the foundation's report.

Out-of-pocket costs also have risen in Massachusetts, with 3% to 4% of workers enrolled in high-deductibles plans in 2011, compared with 1% in 2006.

Overall it's hard to determine how much of the increases are because of Massachusetts state law alone, or whether it is part of a larger national trend toward growing out-of-pocket costs for consumers and workers.

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