Reporting Jon Keller
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BOSTON (CBS) – The Supreme Court could strike down a key part of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law sometime soon. What would that mean for the law in Massachusetts?
Supreme Court watchers who observed Tuesday’s hearings believe the court will throw out the requirement that every American buy health insurance.
Opponents of the law have painted a dark picture of what would happen to people who don’t comply with the law.
Massachusetts residents, meanwhile, have been required to buy insurance for years, and it remains a work in progress. State officials haven’t figured out how to control spiraling costs, for example, and that’s a big problem.
But, critics of the federal law who envision a heartless bureaucracy using the mandate to club taxpayers into submission aren’t going to find much proof of their nightmare here in Massachusetts.
It was smiles all around six years ago when then-Governor Mitt Romney signed our health reform law. Since then, while tens of thousands of scofflaws have paid more than $70 million in penalties, the state’s top health care administrator says they’re a drop in the bucket.
“Over 98% of our population has coverage and very few people are contesting the legitimacy of the individual mandate in Massachusetts,” said Glen Shor, the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector Authority.
“We want to see people get insured. We don’t want to penalize them,” Shor continued. “If people make a good case that their penalty should be reduced or eliminated, their penalty will be reduced or eliminated.”
One recent study found the mandate hasn’t made us all much healthier, with only 1.4 percent transitioning to “very good” or “excellent” health under the reform.
“There are a lot of things that need to happen to elevate the health of our population, but insurance coverage is essential,” said Shor.
The Supreme Court is deciding a complex constitutional question about the extent of the federal government’s authority in part because the drafters of our constitution feared the consequences of unrestrained federal power.
So far in Massachusetts at the local level, though, fears of uncontrolled, abusive state power have gone unrealized.