Health-Care Plan: A Massachusetts Miracle?

How did Democratic and Republican politicians in Massachusetts come together to pass a bill requiring health care for nearly everyone in the state? For one thing, the bipartisan plan was four years in the making.

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DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

It shines like a nonpartisan good deed in a naughty partisan world. The Massachusetts first-ever health plan providing almost universal coverage for its citizens.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

NPR's Senior News Analyst, Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Full disclosure requires me to reveal that I have a vested interest in the subject of health insurance. In 1970, I wrote a book titled Don't Get Sick in America. It argued that with ballooning health costs, national health insurance was an issue whose time had come. Senator Edward Kennedy wrote an upbeat introduction. We were both a little premature.

The Massachusetts plan was four years in the making. It represented an initiative that started with the conservative Republican Governor Mitt Romney and with a big assist from liberal Senator Kennedy. It involved many pressures from many sources. Governor Romney personally delivered letters to leaders of the legislature. Senator Kennedy spent a lot of time on the telephone prodding the lawmakers.

Near the end, supporters of the plan threatened legislative leaders with a petition that would put on the ballot a more extensive health plan, if they didn't pass the coalition proposal.

And so last Tuesday, to the amazement of many citizens who hadn't followed developments, the bill passed the legislature with an overwhelming majority. Under the bill, all Massachusetts residents are required to obtain health insurance coverage by July 1st, 2007. Businesses with more than 10 workers are required to buy insurance for them. The state government will provide subsidies to help business buy insurance for the working poor.

In this era of bitter political animosities, how was it possible to reach this accord? Paul Ginsburg, president of the nonpartisan Center for Studying Health System Change, said, for a conservative Republican, this is individual responsibility; for a Democrat, this is government helping those who need help.

For someone as startled as I was by this evidence of maturity, it's a miracle.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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