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MA Role in Obamacare Spotlighted as Law Goes to Supreme Court

March 27, 2012

BOSTON - All eyes, including some from Massachusetts, are on the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments for and against the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. One of those hoping for a seat in the Court gallery today is Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director of Health Care for All, whose organization worked to help pass health reform in Massachusetts in 2006 under then Governor Mitt Romney, the program upon which the federal law is based.

She says supporters of the state law were concerned about how residents would respond to the individual mandate, which requires residents to buy health insurance.

"And we've actually found it to work very well. It's an important part of the foundation of what has made health reform successful in Massachusetts."

She says more than 98 percent of the state's residents now have health insurance. The individual mandate is the issue at the heart of the arguments for and against federal health-care reform.

Whitcomb Slemmer says another concern was that employers might opt to pay a penalty under the new law rather then provide health insurance for their workers, which would cost more than the penalty.

"In fact, more employers are now providing coverage for their employees than were before the passage of health reform. And we're grateful that they really have stepped into their part of responsibility."

She says people enrolled in the new programs much faster than expected, making initial costs higher. The original law didn't address costs, but she says that's the next step.

"We are now in the vanguard of working on payment reform in Massachusetts, which truly will transform how we pay for and experience the health-care delivery system."

She says health care reform in the state has provided peace of mind for residents.

"They can sleep well at night, knowing that if they have an accident or a need to access health services, they'll be able to do that without worrying about bankruptcy or not being able to afford groceries or rent."

Federal health care reform has added benefits, like allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance plans until the age of 26, which could be lost if the Supreme Court rules against the program.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - MA