Penalties for Massachusetts residents who can afford health insurance but do not purchase it in 2008 could quadruple compared with the maximum penalty in 2007, according to draft regulations released by the Department of Revenue yesterday.Call me cynical again, but I doubt it's a coincidence that we're facing a huge shortfall on the health care bill and the state is contemplating quadrupling next year's penalties for those who don't buy it. What better way to pay ourselves out of this mess than kicking people when they're down?
The question becomes, of course, what is Massachusetts going to do about health care costs? Using the current model, HMOs are only all-too-happy to provide "cheap" insurance options that are still too expensive for tens of thousands of residents. Furthermore, despite the great cost, the "cheap" options come at great expense: stratospheric deductibles, lousy care and a maximum payout of 50-100k, which isn't going to help much if someone comes down with something like cancer. (Not to mention annoying Blue Cross/Blue Shield commercials every 45 seconds.)
If the state is serious about fixing health care in Massachusetts, we can't wait to reform this mess. With slimy HMO tentacles smothering and clinging their every inch on our every attempt at health care reform, I'd say our current efforts at fixing the state's health care problems are quickly nearing FUBAR. The first thing I'd suggest the state do, instead of having a "personal mandate," is to create an actual mandate: create a public option. Then give people a choice - either they get private insurance or public insurance. For those who don't get private insurance, automatically sign them up for the public option - and create a fair rate given personal income. Also, make sure employers are paying their fair share when they don't offer private options. There. Done. Fixed.
We can create health care that people can afford - and that won't make this state go bankrupt. It shouldn't cost people who don't have insurance upwards of a thousand dollars a year, all the while continuing to prevent them from having affordable health care. That's the kind of policy that just doesn't make sense. But until we make Beacon Hill willing to take on employers and the health care lobby, nothing's going to get fixed and we'll continue to see scary headlines like today's: a New Year indeed.