Diagnosis for Mass. health care: Pricey

A doctor reads a blood pressure gauge during an examination of patient at the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, Mass.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Since Massachusetts overhauled its health-care system in 2006, the state has gotten almost universal insurance coverage. But a new study shows that the program, which is supposed to cut health costs, does come at a price. Marketplace's Janet Babin reports from North Carolina Public Radio.


JANET BABIN: The survey found that more residents than ever had access to health care in 2008. But they had a harder time paying the bills. And low-income patients had trouble getting in to see specialists. The physicians either weren't taking new patients or wouldn't accept the type of health insurance they had.

Jon Kingsdale is with Massachusetts Health Connector, the agency that helps residents find health care. He says now that the state has conquered universal coverage, it has to improve on cost and quality.

Jon Kingsdale: Once you solve part of this very complex set of problems, you then probably exacerbate some other problems and need to focus. So that's exactly what we're doing in Massachusetts.

The state program requires companies to make fair and reasonable contributions to employee health care. And residents have to buy their own insurance if they can afford it.

The state plan is touted as a model for national health-care reform.

But the survey found that the program fails to address one of the major contributors to rising health-care costs: people who use the emergency room when they can't afford to see a doctor.

Bill Roper is CEO of the University of North Carolina health-care system. It serves low-income patents, many of them uninsured.

Bill Roper: We're drowning in a tidal wave of indigent care. We have lots of customers, and some of them pay us.

Roper says even with its flaws, the Massachusetts system is far better than health care in the rest of the country. The survey was published in the journal Health Affairs.

In Durham, N.C., I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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