MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris in Washington.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block in California.
As Congress wrestles with its health care overhaul, Massachusetts is entering its fourth year under a sweeping law that requires nearly everybody to get insurance. At this point, fewer than three percent of residents are uninsured, that's the lowest percentage in the nation. Critics say the Massachusetts approach costs too much and creates an overload of newly insured patients.
But as NPR's Richard Knox reports, a new poll says one important group likes the law.
(Soundbite of beeping and machinery)
RICHARD KNOX: It's 12:30 and Dr. Phil Treffletti is grabbing a quick lunch.
Dr. PHIL TREFFLETTI (Primary Care Physician): Leftover chicken from the weekend. One of my wife's recipes. It's a chicken pesto.
KNOX: Treffletti is a busy primary care doctor in the working class town of Chelsea, just north of Boston. The thing that's different these days is that virtually all of his patients are insured, thanks to the 2006 law.
Dr. TREFFLETTI: It's certainly nicer for me to be able to be available to more patients in my community.
KNOX: Over the past couple of years, there have been reports that so many people have signed up for coverage that primary care doctors can't handle the load. That's not the case here. If you call Phil Treffletti's office as a new patient, you'll get an appointment in about three weeks.
Dr. TREFFLETTI: You know, I can't say that we've been swamped or overwhelmed. I don't feel swamped by it in any way.
KNOX: Treffletti is not unusual. The new poll shows most Massachusetts doctors think the law is working pretty well.
Dr. ROBERT BLENDON (Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Harvard School of Public Health): They are very supportive of the law. Seventy percent said they favored the law and overwhelmingly wanted it continued.
KNOX: Dr. Robert Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health ran the poll. It's published online today by the New England Journal of Medicine. Blendon says previous polls show the general public likes the new law, but doctors like it even more.
Dr. BLENDON: They were just quite impressed, both in their own practice and statewide, that the uninsured problem has essentially disappeared from their lives.
KNOX: And doctors don't think the law has affected their quality of care at all. Patients still get the same amount of time with the doctors, and only 13 percent of doctors think their payments are too low.
When the law was passed, people worried that insuring hundreds of thousands of new patients would result in long waiting lists. Well, 62 percent of the doctors in this survey say in their practice, it's not a problem.
Again, Robert Blendon.
Dr. BLENDON: They did see shortage of primary care services as a problem in the state. But two-thirds did not think it was a problem brought on by the legislation.
KNOX: Now, not all doctors say they love the law. Seven percent would like to see it repealed. But a spokesman for the Massachusetts Medical Society says it's hard to find a doctor to say so publicly. Many Massachusetts doctors are worried about the cost of insuring everybody, so is the general population, polls say.
There's growing consensus that something serious needs to be done about the cost of health care, which is heavily subsidized by the state. But for now the doctors' verdict on the Massachusetts healthcare plan is surprisingly positive.
Dr. TREFFLETTI: All right. So, let's have you sit up on the bench there, while I listen to your lungs and check your blood pressure again.
KNOX: Phil Treffletti, the primary care doctor in Chelsea, Massachusetts, is back to work.
Dr. TREFFLETTI: Nice, deep breath.
(Soundbite of breathing)
Dr. TREFFLETTI: Let it out.
(Soundbite of breathing)
Dr. TREFFLETTI: Your lungs sound perfect.
KNOX: Treffletti is happy to hear that most Massachusetts doctors feel the way he does about how things are going.
Dr. TREFFLETTI: I'm glad it's popular and I think it has worked well. And I fully agree that, you know, having doctors support it is a good thing. And I hope that that has some political clout in Washington.
KNOX: But Treffletti says what's really going to count is whether Massachusetts can continue funding its popular new health care program in the face of whopping budget deficits and big budget cuts.
Richard Knox, NPR News, Boston.
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