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Uploaded on Mar 6, 2010
Back to the ObamaCare Future
Natural experiments are rare in politics, but few are as instructive as the prototype for ObamaCare that Massachusetts set in motion in 2006. The bills for "universal coverage" are now coming due, and it appears the state political class is prepared to do lasting damage to one of America's top-flight health-care systems.
Last month, Democratic Governor Deval Patrick landed a neutron bomb, proposing hard price controls across almost all Massachusetts health care. State regulators already have the power to cap insurance premiums, which Mr. Patrick is activating. He also filed a bill that would give state regulators the power to review the rates of hospitals, physician groups and some specialty providers. Those that are deemed too high "shall be presumptively disapproved."
Mr. Patrick ad-libbed that he had "a whole bunch of pals here who are in the health-care field, and I saw the color drain out of their faces." Little wonder. The administered prices of Medicare and Medicaid already shift costs to private patients while below-cost reimbursement creates balance-sheet havoc among providers. Now the governor wants to import these distortions to save the state's heavily subsidized insurance program as costs explode.
It doesn't even count as an irony that former Governor Mitt Romney (like President Obama) sold this plan as a way to control spending. As with all new entitlements, the rolling cost crisis began almost immediately. For fiscal 2010 taxpayer costs are $47 million over budget, in part due to the recession, and while the $913 million Mr. Patrick requested for 2011 is a 5% increase over 2010, spending has grown on average 6.7% per year.
Meanwhile, average Massachusetts insurance premiums are now the highest in the nation. Since 2006, they've climbed at an annual rate of 30% in the individual market. Small business costs have increased by 5.8%. Per capita health spending in Massachusetts is now 27% higher than the national average, and 15% higher even after adjusting for local wages and academic research grants. The growth rate is faster too.