Fact-checking Patrick’s health care article

Governor leaves out some story lines


Gov. Deval Patrick is bullish about the 2006 health care access law, the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act, and a 2012 state law to control cost increases.

In a Huffington Post op-ed Monday, Patrick, a Democrat finishing his second term and considered a potential national office seeker, unsurprisingly focused on the upsides of Massachusetts’ experiments with health care reform without addressing some of the more recent, gloomier developments. Patrick described Massachusetts as “the first state to achieve universal health care, the model for the ACA.” And he ticked off other achievements in a piece targeted for a national audience and intended by the governor to let people know how Obamacare’s “prototype” has been doing.

Patrick wrote that the insurance expansion added only 1 percent of spending to the state budget, that unemployment in Massachusetts has remained lower than the national average and economic growth higher, that more private companies are offering insurance to employees than ever before, that “virtually every resident” is insured, and that average base rate increases are less than 2 percent today after rising more than 16 percent three years ago.

“As the ACA is implemented this month, the entire country will begin to enjoy the benefits that we have seen from health care reform here in Massachusetts, and much more,” Patrick wrote.

The governor did not mention some of the other storylines that have been playing out in Massachusetts.

Small businesses fearful of sharp health insurance rate hikes remain opposed to ratings factors being forced upon states under Obamacare. At the direction of the Democrat-controlled Legislature, Patrick sought a waiver from the ratings rules, but the Obama administration rejected it, allowing a three-year phase-in period instead. One major business group said it was mulling legal action.

As the state and nation crawled out of the Great Recession, Patrick administration officials maintained a “faster and stronger” mantra to distinguish growth in Massachusetts from other states, a narrative that has since been abandoned following mixed economic reports and data showing the state growing more slowly compared to the nation from April through June after a strong first quarter.

Last week, economists who are part of the University of Massachusetts Benchmarks project reported, “After coming out of the recession more quickly than the nation, in recent months the Massachusetts economy has been growing sluggishly. The state unemployment rate has been rising even as the national rate has been falling.”

The state unemployment rate held steady at 7.2 percent in August, a hair below the nation’s 7.3 percent unemployment rate. The government shutdown prevented the release of an updated national rate on Friday. A year ago August, the national jobless rate was 8.1 percent and the Massachusetts rate was 6.8 percent.

The state Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) reported in August that based on 2011 data, 97 percent of Massachusetts residents were insured, with nearly 200,000 uninsured. Massachusetts has consistently registered a high insured rate, a fact that policymakers say has made insurance expansion efforts more achievable and the job of keeping together a broad coalition behind reform more doable.

The CHIA report also quantified a 40 percent increase in insurance deductibles from 2009 until 2011 and a 10 percent increase in average premiums from 2009 until 2011 – from $384 per month to $421 per month.

The state agency also reported a decline in residents insured through employers, to just under 62 percent in 2011 from 67 percent in 2009, and an increase in those covered by Medicaid or Medicare. The percentage receiving coverage through Medicaid rose from 15 percent in 2009 to 17.4 percent in 2011 and the percentage on Medicare rose from 15.3 percent in 2009 to 17.7 percent in 2011.

Meet the Author
In his op-end, Patrick faulted Republicans opposed to the Affordable Care Act and using their clout in the U.S. House to force a government shutdown by resisting funding legislation unless it includes a retreat from the ACA. Referencing the ACA, Patrick touted small business tax credits, market-based choices and a more competitive rate-setting environment, writing, “People with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied insurance. People who get really sick can no longer be kicked off their insurance. And kids can stay on their parents’ plans a bit longer, until they can get their own.”

Reflecting on the ACA and his implementation of the 2006 state law signed by his predecessor, Gov. Mitt Romney, Patrick concluded, “Firsts are hard. There are and will be challenges. But it has been and will be worth it.”