Congressional Quarterly Weekly
by Shawn Zeller
Originally Published April 14, 2006:
The stolidly liberal legislature of Massachusetts appeared to be playing entirely to type when it passed its landmark legislation to make the state the
first in the nation to provide medical coverage to virtually all its citizens.
But some liberals are rushing to denounce the plan. "This is being sold as achieving universal coverage," says Nathan Newman, policy director for the Progressive Legislative Action Network. "But when people talk about insurance access and health care for all, no one thought that would mean telling people to go get it and fine them if they don't."
That's the essence of the law, which GOP Gov. Mitt Romney signed last week, though it will cover all costs for the poor and subsidize health-related expenses for lower-middle-income citizens.
The law also calls for fines as high as $1,200 for individuals who don't sign up for a health plan. But, for now, employers would not be penalized for failing to offer coverage -- because Romney used his line-item veto power to excise a $295-per-worker fine from the bill. (State legislators say they'll mount an effort to override him.)
"What we are concerned about is whether it really struck the appropriate balance in what employers are required to do vs. the penalties individuals might face," says Karen Davenport at the liberal Center for American Progress.
Romney is considering a 2008 presidential bid, and he's been touting his ability to sell the overwhelmingly Democratic General Court on a plan formulated in part by the conservative Heritage Foundation. The state's liberal lion, Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, was among those sold on the plan, praising Romney for giving "Massachusetts just what the doctor ordered."
But the new law's detractors insist there's less here than meets the eye. For one thing, says Newman, the state can waive fines for individuals if a state commission cannot identify affordable health care plans for them. "It's a bit of a bait and switch with Romney," he says.