WASHINGTON -- Five years after Mitt Romney signed a landmark health care law that paved the way for President Obama’s controversial national reform, an unscientific survey of Massachusetts HuffPost readers found widespread satisfaction with the state's health insurance coverage.
Responses from more than 50 current or former Massachusetts residents asked by HuffPost about their experiences confirms a recent poll that shows a large majority of Bay State residents like “RomneyCare.”
Some HuffPost readers said the state program literally saved their lives by allowing them to buy affordable health insurance for the first time. Others wrote about being denied coverage for preexisting conditions before the state law took effect. Young and old alike praised the program known as Commonwealth Care.
Not everyone is pleased. Some small business owners complained about costs. There were complaints about bureaucracy. And some low-income residents still can’t afford coverage.
But overall, readers not only liked their state program, but also voiced support for the one-year-old federal Affordable Care Act that their former governor, in the opening stages of a presidential campaign, has called on Congress to repeal.
Despite approval from his former constituents, Romney has sought to distance himself from the health care plan, which conservative Republicans have attacked as a model for what they derisively call “ObamaCare.”
This weekend, at an event in Nevada, Romney tried out a new talking point to deal with criticism from a key voting bloc in the 2012 GOP presidential primaries.
“He does me the great favor of saying that I was the inspiration of his plan. If that’s the case, why didn’t you call me?” Romney said of Obama. “Why didn’t you ask what was wrong? Why didn’t you ask if this was an experiment, what worked and what didn’t?”
While the president may not have called, here is a sampling of what HuffPost readers have to say about Romney’s plan:
‘’Ultimate health tonic’
As a self-employed singer and music instructor, Sara Azriel “lived in terror” during her seven years living in California without health insurance. After she moved back to Massachusetts a year ago, she was stunned to learn about the the state program.
"How can this be real? Is this too good to be true?" Azriel, 33, asked. “The day I received the letter that my coverage was about to begin was one of the most happy and memorable days in my adulthood thus far. I'll never be able to accurately describe the relief I felt (and still feel) in contrast to the terror I felt while without coverage in California.
“Knowing that I can go and receive care if I need it, when I need it,” without worrying about cost or having to borrow money for treatment, “is the ultimate health tonic.”
Small business owner has mixed feelings
Donna Donovan says the state law did not help small businesses like hers. Her small technology company in Sagamore Beach has seen its monthly individual employee premiums almost double from $500 soon after the law was signed to $992 starting in May.
“Health insurance reform in Massachusetts helped the less fortunate in our state and the health insurance companies. The law was ‘supposed’ to pave the way for Small Group Health Purchasing Cooperatives so small businesses like mine could see some relief from out-of-control premium increases,” she wrote, “but you can be darn sure the health insurance companies will make sure that never happens. … NO relief is in sight at the state level for small businesses and their employees so I am looking for national leadership.”
Donovan said the Romney and Obama health care laws are merely starting points.
“I, personally, am hopeful that there will come a day when employers are no longer expected to provide health insurance, that health insurance companies will be eliminated from the equation (a public option would have been nice) or perhaps that a nationalized health care system has taken root in this great country,” she wrote.
“I look forward to a future when every American has access to good health care, no one goes bankrupt when they get sick, health care professionals are able to focus on providing excellent care because they aren’t wasting their time filling out insurance paperwork, and employers can focus on innovation and putting people to work. “
Romney ‘should be proud’
After Cape Cod resident Lee Thomas and her husband were laid off from software firms a decade ago, the couple was forced to enter the individual insurance market. It was a nightmare.
Though both basically healthy, he suffered from asthma and severe allergies that required expensive medications.
“We started out, in 2001, paying $1,200/month for health insurance which included a $2,500 per person deductible, and co-pays on everything and very limited drug coverage,” wrote Thomas, 60. “That premium escalated every year by big leaps. In 2004 we switched to a $800/month policy with $10,000 per person deductible and no drug coverage. We filed one claim (after having paid the deductible in full) and that was denied. The ‘policy’ was about 50 pages and one page would indicate something was covered, the next page would indicate it was not. We dropped that policy the next enrollment year.”
By 2006, the couple was paying $1,800 a month in premiums with hefty out-of-pocket costs.
"Last year, thanks to the Massachusetts health care system, we were able (due to income) to qualify for the SAME coverage for a little over $300 per month,” Thomas wrote. “SAME care, SAME doctors, SAME ‘wait time’ (essentially none), SAME everything. NO changes were required. We have deductibles and co-pays for all visits and drugs. But we have solid health care at an affordable rate.”
Wrote Thomas: “Gov. Romney should be very proud of this excellent system. It is hard for us to believe he is denying he had anything to do with it! If ‘ObamaCare’ is as good as the Massachusetts system, everyone should be very happy.”
‘Couldn’t believe a Republican designed it!’
Before Sue Memhard moved to Denver two years ago, she and her husband, both in their late 50s, lived in the western Massachusetts town of Shutesbury. Because of joblessness and ill health, neither had health insurance and were unable to buy an affordable policy.
“The Massachusetts health plan was life-saving in many ways and we were, and are, exceedingly grateful for it. We couldn't believe a Republican designed it!” she wrote. “It enabled my husband to have many years (of) overdue blood work, and also hearing aids that have changed his life. This is not even a benefit on most so-called standard health plans. It also enabled me to receive dental care at much reduced costs.”
Memhard, a cancer survivor, doesn’t like that coverage is mandatory because “I use 90% alternative treatments that no insurance covers.”
There were other down sides as well. “There was some waste. We would often receive many duplicates of the same information, for instance,” she said. “And the bureaucracy administering it was a bit slow and rigid. But no more so than corporate plans -- perhaps less.”
Falling through the cracks
Audrey Maldonado moved to Holbrook, Mass. last year after getting out of the Navy. She is a full-time community college student and has health insurance through the G.I. bill. Her husband, who works at an electrical engineering company, and their 2-year-old son do not.
Employer-provided insurance would cost the family $750 a month. That’s more than the couple can afford. Under the state’s formula, the family should be able to pay $586 a month for insurance but the only subsidized plans they have found cost as much as the employer-provided one.
“My family is an example of just who goes uncovered under this type of plan,” Maldonado, 30, wrote. “We do not pay the penalty (for not having coverage) because the insurance available to us is more expensive than the amount the state has decided is affordable for us. In other words, there is no affordable option for us.”
The Massachusetts law has done little to rein in costs, said Linda Blumberg, who was among a group of Urban Institute researchers whose research paved the way for the state plan. She said the state doesn’t offer the same subsidies to those who have access to an employer-provided plan, even if they earn too little to afford it, because policymakers don’t want to displace private coverage.
Although the Maldonados were exempted from paying a penalty for not having coverage, Blumberg notes that fewer than 45,000 adult Massachusetts tax filers out of a total of 3.95 million in 2008 were deemed unable to afford coverage and exempted from paying a penalty for not having it.
‘Seamless’ Benefits Could Work Nationwide
Jay Smith of Lexington is in his early 60s and retired. Though he and his wife are in generally good health for their age, “We each have several of the infamous ‘pre-existing conditions’ which would render us ineligible for private health insurance in most of the rest of the US. But because we live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we have been able to (and indeed have to) buy comprehensive plans.”
While his coverage isn’t cheap -- the couple pay more than $1,400 a month -- it’s nearly identical to what his employer offered before he retired.
“The insurance works directly with my HMO clinic, and for the most part I do not see medical paperwork,” he wrote. “Very occasionally some charge exceeds the benefit level and I get a bill from the insurance company for the difference. But basically it is all seamless.”
Smith disputes conservatives who call the Massachusetts plan a disaster that is bankrupting the state. “This is unmitigated baloney. I don't see why a plan like Massachusetts' wouldn't work well across the country,” he said. “It is amusing to see Romney squirm around trying to disown what he did here. It was actually his one positive legacy to the state.”
Dagmar von Schwerin and her husband were both laid off and their federal COBRA coverage had run out when they turned to Massachusetts to help.
“It was simple to go online and compare different plans, at different levels, and make a choice,” said von Schwerin,. 56, a marketing consultant who lives in Cambridge. While her $766 monthly premium isn’t cheap, “Doctors accept the coverage. There is even limited dental coverage. I had one instance where lab costs were not covered and I had to go back and have them resubmit some of them correctly so that they were covered. So perhaps I have to be a bit more vigilant than I was when my employer covered everything. But I think that's probably a good thing. We should all know what things cost.”
Better than Medicare
Sharon Koperek will qualify for Medicare next month but she isn’t happy about getting on the federal health care program for seniors. Under Commonwealth Care, the Housatonic resident pays just $77 a month in premiums. That will go up to $156 under Medicare. Her co-pay for prescription drugs will go from $25 to $45.
“What a rip-off that is,” she said of Medicare. “Our health insurance in Massachusetts is a blessing!”
Young business owner
Jed Armour, 30, grew up in Illinois and never had health insurance because his parents couldn’t afford it. That all changed when he moved to Cape Cod and opened a clothing boutique with his wife. They are the among the youngest business owners in Chatham, a small town with soaring real estate prices and a dying fishing industry.
“We have great health care that is based on our income,” he wrote. “Our business is about to start our second year and we're expecting growth. There is no way we could afford private health care right now. All our money goes into the business and necessities.”
Health professional sees fewer chronic cases
Jane Alpert is a nurse practitioner at a Fall River clinic for the “medically under-served.” Before the health care law, the clinic was filled with people who had diabetes, hypertension, depression and other chronic illnesses “that had gone completely un-managed for years. The clinic isn't like that anymore as most people in the state have coverage.,” she wrote.
“We have some good options for people who are still uninsured, undocumented or who are under-insured,” she said. “The down side is that it is very difficult for many people to afford the insurances that are offered and often if they do manage to afford what their work offers it is with high co-pays, which they cannot afford. Some of this will keep people away from getting mammograms and other important screenings.”
Self-employed carpenter now insured
Brooks Lawrence, a 41-year-old self-employed carpenter in Boston, struggled to pay his health insurance premiums before the law passed and was eventually forced to drop coverage.
When the state stepped in five years ago, his premiums dropped by half and he was back on insurance.
“The plan is not perfect and premiums have climbed now by 50%,” he wrote, adding that they are “still 25% less than they were prior to passage of the bill.”
Plan is ‘too luxurious’
John Chittick “couldn’t have asked for more” from his Massachusetts health coverage after the economic collapse left him eligible for free health care.
For nearly two years, before he moved to Virginia, the 63-year-old who suffers from several chronic diseases received $8,000 worth of dental care and “surgeries that under other plans might have been denied.”
Whatever his doctors recommended, he got. A diabetic, he got special orthopedic shoes. Ventilation therapy to help him breathe. Prescription medicines that cost $1 or $3 in co-pays. And, when he twice broke his arm. up to 12 hours of home care a week for four months.
“Was I happy that I got as much as I did? Yes,” said Chittick, who runs a non-profit that educates teens about AIDS. “Was it over-the-top? Yes, in hindsight it was too luxurious a plan. Friends with their own plans were amazed what I received.”
Jed Johnson, 55, a telecom systems engineer from Bourne, gets his insurance through work and the only change he’s seen in when he fills out his state tax forms. All Massachusetts residents must file a special 1099-HC form to prove they have coverage or else pay a penalty.
“There are additional forms to be filled out to assess compliance with the law,” he wrote. “Thankfully TurboTax does it all from the 1099-HC.”