AP Reporter: Mass. Health System a 'Grand Experiment'

In an article about the status of Massachusetts's health care system on January 6, Associated Press Writer Steve LeBlanc seemed to be auditioning for a spot at the BBC.

Until just a few years ago, when the cost, sanitation, treatment and other problems at the British National Health service (NHS) became so obvious that they could not be ignored, the BBC could be counted on to give glowing reports on the NHS, regardless of the reality.

LeBlanc's opening paragraphs, carried in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, could have been taken straight from 1990s-and-prior BBC missives:

Massachusetts is facing a daunting goal as it enters the second year of its grand experiment of extending health care coverage to nearly all citizens - reining in spiraling costs that could threaten the landmark law.

"The sustainability of reform depends on our ability to restrain or constrain or moderate the increase in costs," said Jon Kingsdale, executive director of the Health Insurance Connector Authority, which oversees the health care law.

"That's going to take a huge concerted effort by all players in the health care area," he added.

For Massachusetts residents deemed able to afford health care, but refuse, that means facing new monthly fines that could total as much as $912 for individuals and $1,824 for couples by the end of the year.

That's a steep increase. Those who failed to get insured in 2007, the first year of the law, faced the loss of their personal exemption on their tax returns, worth $219.

But pressuring individuals to get insured is only part of a multi-pronged attempt to cut health care costs to ensure the viability of the law, which has thrust Massachusetts into the center of the national health care debate.

The state's insurers, hospitals and lawmakers are also finding themselves under pressure to slow spending, or come up with new revenue.

Points relating to bolded items:

  • "Grand experiment"? -- Attempts at privatizing Social Security and other government reform efforts are routinely labeled "controversial" or "risky schemes." The word "experiment" has often used to describe the Soviet Union of the 1920s and 1930s. I don't recall it ever being used to describe a large-scale expansion of a government program.
  • "monthly fines that could total as much as $912 for individuals and $1,824 for couples by the end of the year." -- To be clear, that $76 and $152 per month, respectively. LeBlanc appears not to wonder at all about how many residents might simply leave the Bay State to avoid being subjected to the sizable fines noted.
  • "multi-pronged attempt to cut health care costs to ensure the viability of the law" -- I get the impression that LeBlanc is more interested in whether the "grand experiment" survives than in whether patient treatment deteriorates or improves.
  • "slow spending, or come up with new revenue" -- experienced readers will recognize this as code for a word that defenders of systems such as these will never use. That word is "rationing."

If this is the kind of reporting we can expect about attempts to nationalize health care, readers are going to have to work very hard to sort out the truth.

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Disclosure: Yours truly is on the record opposing the candidacy of Mitt Romney, who championed and signed the related health care legislation when he was governor of Massachusetts. The post above is only about media reporting of current situation, and not about Romney himself. The underlying AP article does not mention Romney's name.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.