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Massachusetts Nears Universal Health Coverage

Some 97.4 percent of Massachusetts residents have health insurance, by far the highest coverage rate of any state, a survey shows.

December 19, 2008
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More than two years after Massachusetts passed groundbreaking legislation to move the state close to universal health insurance coverage, the Bay State has achieved that milestone, according to a survey released Thursday, December 18.

Some 97.4 percent of Massachusetts residents have health insurance, by far the highest coverage rate of any state. In 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, just under 95 percent of the state’s residents had coverage.

State officials hailed the findings, which are based on a survey conducted from June to August by the Urban Institute, a Washington-based research organization.

“Massachusetts has succeeded in covering the uninsured at an amazing rate. Massachusetts now has both the lowest rate of [uninsured residents] in the country and a rate that is less than half of the next-lowest state. … This is a remarkable achievement,” Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby said in a statement.

In 2007, Hawaii had the second-lowest uninsured rate, with 7.5 percent of the population lacking health insurance, according to the Census Bureau.

Several provisions in Massachusetts’ 2006 reform law have been key in increasing coverage, experts say, including state premium subsidies for the low-income uninsured, imposing financial penalties of more than $900 a year on those who are not covered under a health plan, and a $295-per-employee assessment on employers who do not offer coverage.

The report found that of those with health insurance coverage, 68 percent received coverage from employers, 17 percent obtained coverage from public or other programs, and 15 percent of the insured population—chiefly those 65 and older—had coverage through Medicare.

Even though Massachusetts subsidizes health insurance premiums for eligible low-income uninsured residents, insurance coverage was directly related to income, according to the survey.

For example, 5.4 percent of residents with incomes less than 150 percent of the federal poverty were uninsured, while 5.1 percent of those with annual incomes between 150 percent and 299 percent of the federal poverty level were uninsured. By contrast, just 1.9 percent of those with incomes between 300 percent and 499 percent of the federal poverty level were uninsured, while 0.3 percent of those with incomes at least 500 percent of the federal poverty level had coverage.

The survey is based on responses of 4,910 Massachusetts households.

Filed by Jerry Geisel of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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