With the Healthcare.gov site now improving, the U.S. focus on the botched rollout of the website is now shifting to what the effects of the Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as "Obamacare") might be in the future. Supporters of the law (who are taking considerable criticism from conservative opponents of the law) might find solace today in a new study that shows the Massachusetts law that much of the Affordable Care Act was based on actually worked.
In 2006 Massachusetts passed a sweeping healthcare law. The law became known in subsequent years by the name "Romneycare," as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney signed the law and was instrumental in its passing. The Romneycare label was part of the reason Romney shied away from strongly criticizing the Affordable Care Act during his 2012 U.S. Presidential campaign.
The new study, published in the journal The Milbank Quarterly, shows that in just five short years the health of Massachusetts citizens was significantly improved. This was especially true for poor and lower-class citizens who were able to gain health insurance as part of the legislation. In addition to health measurements, Massachusetts citizens were more likely to have a personal doctor and more likely to report that healthcare costs were not a barrier to treatment.
"Everyone has been looking over the past few years at Massachusetts, which was the first state to show the rest of the U.S. that near-universal coverage could be achieved," says Philip Van der Wees, first author of the study and a former Harvard University healthcare researcher. "We found that people have gained in general, mental, and physical health, and that some preventive measures improved. We would hope that this would be a blueprint for the rest of the U.S., though Massachusetts is not the average state, because it began from a higher level of insurance,"
The study was able to determine the effects of the Massachusets healthcare law over the course of its implementation. Researchers found that insurance coverage improved within just one year of the law's passage, and that cost barriers to medical treatment fell during that time. Within two years personal doctor visits were up. Four years later measurable improvements to the state's health were seen.
The study's authors believe that this paper, along with others, could be a sign of what is to come for the U.S. with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
"In an era of demagoguery and exaggeration posing as 'facts' it is essential to collect and analyze solid evidence on our nation's health care policies," said Howard Markel, editor-in-chief of The Milbank Quarterly and the director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. "Indeed, it is the only way I know to approach the Sisyphean task of reforming and improving health care access for all Americans. Publishing and disseminating articles like this one is a solid start in that direction."
(Image courtesy Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)