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Massachusetts is making health insurance mandatory, effective today.
Massachusetts begins health-care experiment

There is a lot of talk about overhauling health care in the U.S., but Massachusetts is trying to do it — again.

Today, the home of some of the nation's most prestigious hospitals and medical schools becomes the first state to require its 6.5 million residents to have health insurance or face financial penalties.

Making insurance mandatory — and more affordable — is the centerpiece of a law approved by the Legislature last year that civic and business leaders hope will substantially reduce the ranks of the state's 400,000 uninsured and the number of people who seek costly "uncompensated" care in hospital emergency rooms.

Nearly 20 years ago, Gov. Michael Dukakis signed universal-health-care legislation that was supposed to bring coverage to everyone by 1992. But the law's requirement that employers provide coverage to workers or pay a tax proved unpopular, and it was never implemented.

Could become a model

Massachusetts's new experiment could become a model for major changes in health care across the country — if it works.

Democratic presidential candidates are borrowing some elements for their campaign platforms, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing a similar plan in California and other states are watching.

The Massachusetts law divides the population into three segments:

• The poorest, making less than the federal poverty level, are eligible for free care.

• People making slightly more, up to three times the federal poverty level, can enroll in state-subsidized plans.

• Those making more than three times the federal poverty level — at least $30,630 for an individual and $61,950 for a family of four — can choose their own coverage from new, lower-cost private plans, if they aren't insured through work.
Here's the biggie:
Premiums go up with age, but people cannot be charged more if they are sick or denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

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