Mass. Law Requiring Health Insurance Praised in Print

Imagine being fined by your state government for not buying something you choose to avoid purchasing. It may sound crazy, but in Massachusetts it may soon be the law.

A bill awaiting Republican Gov. Mitt Romney’s signature could slap heavy fines on people who choose to not buy health insurance. But rather than focus on the privacy invasion and government expansion the new law would engender, the nation’s leading newspapers portrayed the legislation as a bipartisan stroke of genius and even a bow to conservative values.

"Massachusetts is the first state in America to reach full adulthood … The rest of America is still in adolescence," Princeton economic professor Uwe Reinhardt raved in an April 5 Washington Post article.

The New York Times‘ Pam Belluck presented the legislation as a solution providing near-universal health coverage "in a way that experts say combines methods and proposals from across the political spectrum."

"They found a way to get to a major expansion of coverage that people could agree on. For a conservative Republican, this is individual responsibility. For a Democrat, this is government helping those that need help," said Paul Ginsburg of the Center for Studying Health System Change.

"It is not a typical Massachusetts-Taxachusetts, oh-just-crazy-liberal plan," added Brandeis University’s Stuart H. Altman, calling it impressive and "a pretty moderate approach" that has "tried to borrow and blend a lot of different pieces."

Belluck left out that the liberal Altman served as a Clinton health policy advisor and blamed the press in part for the failure of the Clinton socialized health plan.

"As the debate went on and on, there was a kind of lulling, that the problems weren’t so bad … You in the press went from pumping up the problems to pumping up the problems of the solutions," Altman griped to the Times in an Oct. 2, 1994, article.

"This will have a ripple effect across the country," said John McDonough of the liberal advocacy group Health Care for All in an April 5 Associated Press article. McDonough praised the "novelty" of combining a liberal focus on regulating business with a "conservative" drive to place responsibility for health care on the individual.

But while highlighting the praise of liberal pundits extolling the "conservative" virtues of the pending insurance legislation, the print media left out the concerns of actual conservative and libertarian health policy experts.

Under the legislation, Bay State taxpayers must inform the commonwealth which health insurance plan they purchased, if any. Those who refuse to buy health insurance can be forced to pay the state half the cost of the cheapest available health insurance policy.

Health policy expert Michael Tanner released a policy analysis on April 5 detailing his concerns with the Bay State’s legislation. Tanner, Cato’s director of Health and Welfare Studies, pointed out that "an individual mandate is likely to be unenforceable" and "would involve a costly and complex bureaucratic system of tracking, penalties, and subsidies."

Forseeing a "slow but steady spiral downward" toward nationally socialized medicine, Tanner warned that "an individual mandate crosses an important line: accepting the principle that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that every American has health insurance. In doing so, it opens the door to widespread regulation of the health care industry and political interference in personal health care decisions."