Saturday, May 13, 2006
Will "Romneycare" Survive?
A couple of weeks ago, I blogged my opinion of Romney's innovative healthcare initiative signed into Mass law last month. I'm still high on the program, but a few things have me worried as I've continued to follow this evolving saga of state politics . . . one upon which everyone in the nation seems to have an opinion (see the litany of op/ed pieces the day after the bill was signed).
One threat to its success is federal intrusion into state regulation of healthcare insurers. As E.J. Dione Jr. opines in the Washington Post this could seriously sidetrack the Mass plan. This columnist really wants to give the states a chance to work out healthcare solutions--since the federal government has been so weak on the issue for so long.
But what really has me worried about the sustainability of the plan is the fact that the Senate overrode Romney's vetoes in the bill. The veto that gets all the press is the $295 per employee fee for employers that don't provide coverage. That being overridden bothers me on philosophical grounds . . . but doesn't worry me about the long term success of the program--it actually will be another source of funding the plan . . . and it looks like it's gonna need it (keep reading to see why)
The veto override by the Mass Legislature that really worries me is the inclusion of free dental and eyeglass coverage to certain recipients. This is estimated by one source to cost an extra $75 million annually and could be a major drag on the success and sustainability of the whole program. I'm all for good teeth (an obvious sign that I'm American . . . and not European) and seeing well (heck, I'm an ophthalmologist), but come on!
Even as an "Eye M.D." (currently a vitreoretinal fellow supporting family of six . . . so money is tight) who works for a major university system and prescribes eyeglasses on a routine basis, I DON'T EVEN HAVE EYEGLASS COVERAGE! I have been wearing the same eyeglasses for 3.5 years now and the frames were given to me . . . so who knows how old they are. I don't say this to pride myself on frugality, but to prove a point: that I probably would have gotten new glasses every year or so if they had been covered by some plan; but instead, I've made due because it saves me money.
Also, as the prior article says, 60% of employers in Mass don't provide a dental benefit. If the MAJORITY of working people don't have it covered, why should the government feel beholden to provide it? Maybe that's just how things work in that democratic legislature in Massachusetts.
All that being said, I am still optimistic about the potential savings created by keeping people out of expensive ERs and hospitals by earlier intervention and preventative care. Hopefully, this innovative program will save enough money to cover the costs that the Democrats have already added onto it.