Mass. Boasts Highest Insured Rate In U.S.

fromWBUR

Massachusetts enacted a universal health care law six years ago. That's meant that almost all of its population now has health insurance. We explore what that means for someone who can now treat their health condition.

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And again, Texas is the extreme case with one person in four uninsured. At the other end of the scale, in Massachusetts, only 1.9 percent of the population is uninsured. 98.1 percent has insurance since 2006 when the state passed a health care law that mandated coverage. From member station WBUR in Boston, reporter Martha Bebinger brings us the story of one Massachusetts man who is now insured.

MARTHA BEBINGER, BYLINE: Peter Brook is one of the 439,000 residents who has coverage as a result of the state law.

PETER BROOK: We don't have anybody that does the landscaping around here, so.

BEBINGER: Fifty-one-year-old Brook bends his wiry body against a chain-linked fence to tug at grass invading a narrow flowerbed.

BROOK: It kind of look likes a wild jungle after a while, but it's better than the barren concrete look of most of the blocks around here.

BEBINGER: Landscaping is one of the many odd jobs Brook takes on to cover his basic needs. Five years ago, before Massachusetts started offering free and subsidized coverage, he could not afford health insurance or the insulin and needles Brook uses daily to treat his diabetes.

BROOK: When I didn't have health insurance, I'd use a needle for 30 days, like 150 shots or something, and so it gets a little bit dull.

BEBINGER: When Brook had complications related to his diabetes, he didn't have money for care. The worst was a digestive problem that would bring on crippling stomach pain.

BROOK: I would tend to hole up in the fetal position at home and then, over the course of a week or two, my skinny body would lose 25, 30 pounds and then I'd end up looking like a death camp survivor.

BEBINGER: And then there was the time Brook fractured his pinky and set it by taping the broken section to his ring finger. It's still crooked.

Today, Brook has free health insurance and a regular doctor at the South Boston Community Health Center. Brook's only cost is a $3.65 co-pay for prescriptions, which adds up to about $14 a month.

BROOK: I now have good health care so that that is a weight off of my mind. It's been a year and a half since I've been in the hospital and for the first fifty years of my life, I never went six months without having a inpatient hospital stay for one thing or another.

BEBINGER: While Brook's care is free, Massachusetts, with help from the federal government, spends roughly $182 million more a year on health coverage for low income residents than it did before 2006. That's according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

Brook worries about the cost of health care.

BROOK: Who's paying for it? Where is that money coming from? If society were a human being, then they're dragging a ball and chain down the street on their ankle.

BEBINGER: Brook, through a religious group called the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, is lobbying legislators in Massachusetts to control health care cost increases so that coverage will be affordable. As lawmakers finalize bills, there's a vigorous debate underway about what state government can or should do to limit spending on health care.

For NPR News, I'm Martha Bebinger in Boston.

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