As we previously reported here, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney signed a health care bill, known as “An Act Providing Access to Affordable, Quality, Accountable Health Care” (the “Act”), into law on April 12, 2006.  The Act became effective on July 1, 2007 and requires that all Massachusetts residents carry health insurance, unless they have a waiver for religious reasons or have a waiver from the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority (the “Connector”).  Individuals that do not have a waiver and do not have health care insurance face fines of more than $1,000 per individual for the 2009 tax year.
According to a Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy study conducted by Urban Institute, the number of uninsured residents in Massachusetts has dwindled since the Act was signed into law, from 650,000 uninsured residents to 167,300 today.  This is the lowest rate of uninsured residents in the nation.
Despite the purported success of the Act, many analysts and policymakers question whether this health care reform will survive as Massachusetts and its residents face increased unemployment.  Over the last three years, Massachusetts’ unemployment rate has increased from approximately 4.8 percent to approximately 7 percent, leaving 72,000 more residents unemployed since the Act’s inception.  As more residents are laid off, analysts and policymakers question whether these individuals will obtain health insurance while encountering other economic pressures.
Concern is also mounting over whether Massachusetts will be able to allocate additional expenditures to subsidizing health insurance in this economic downturn.  Currently, Massachusetts has budgeted $820 million to cover 164,000 individuals in subsidized health care plans.  Democratic Governor Deval Patrick’s proposed budget for the 2009 fiscal year would increase spending to $880 million to cover up to 180,000.  This request for increased funds was made despite the announcement by the Massachusetts Legislature that the budget for the 2009 fiscal year must be reduced by billions of dollars.
Critics state that the Massachusetts Legislature must rethink the health insurance mandate in light of the unforeseen economic circumstances.  They propose a waiver from the mandate for laid off individuals.