20080603 mitt romney health care signing 18
Gov. Mitt Romney signs Massachusetts' new health care reform bill in April 2006, which made Massachusetts the first state in the country to require that all residents have health insurance. - 


Kai Ryssdal: It's been just over a year since the mandatory health insurance program in Massachusetts went into effect. It got its first major check-up today and Marketplace's Sarah Gardner has the results.

Sarah Gardner: Health care reformers see Massachusetts as a sort of laboratory for universal coverage. No other state has adopted such a comprehensive plan and if it's successful, advocates hope it will embolden Congress to pass something similar.

Today's study by the Urban Institute suggests, so far at least, the Massachusetts plan is working.

Sharon Long led the research.

Sharon Long: Uninsurance is down among working age adults -- reduced by almost half -- access to care has improved and health care is more affordable for individuals in the state.

The Massachusetts law requires residents to buy health insurance or pay a yearly penalty. The state subsidizes those who can't afford coverage.

But the Massachusetts plan isn't entirely the picture of health. The research suggests there may not be enough primary care doctors to service all the newly insured and the program cost at least $150 million more than expected.

Drew Altman is president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Drew Altman: There's not a lot of cost containment built into the Massachusetts plan.

Altman say controlling costs is now the law's biggest challenge, especially given the weak economy. Some health care advocates are already calling for employers to contribute more towards the program. Not surprisingly, business is resisting that remedy.

Bill Vernon: Really a dangerous move for the future of the economy of the state of Massachusetts.

Bill Vernon is with the National Federation of Independent Business. He says anything that would upset the delicate political balance achieved in the Massachusetts plan is unwise.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

Follow Sarah Gardner at @RadioGardner