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The Health Care May Be (Almost) Universal, But Not So the Kudos

APRIL 14, 2006 -- While a new Massachusetts law to cover virtually all of the state's uninsured residents has drawn praise from across the political spectrum, the kudos are not universal.

"This legislation provides little hope for middle-class families" and "sends the wrong message to other states looking for answers to their own health care crises," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said of the measure signed into law April 12 by the state's Republican governor, Mitt Romney. The law requires individuals without coverage to obtain it, offering subsidies to low-income residents to do so.

Sweeney lauded those sliding-scale subsidies but said they wouldn't be available once a worker's income reaches $28,000 a year. That would mean paying 15 percent of pretax income—a "huge" outlay for a working family—for the average plan, he said. Cheaper policies available to the uninsured would be so stripped down as to be "coverage in name only," according to Sweeney. "Universal health care should mean just that—affordable health care for all, not just for the top and the bottom."

Sweeney also took a swipe at Romney for vetoing a provision of the law that would have required employers with more than 10 workers to pay $295 for each employee not provided with health insurance.

The sum is "meager" compared with what working families would have to pay for an average plan, "but in Romney's eyes, even that was too much to ask of his business friends," Sweeney said. Romney said the plan will be workable without the assessment.

Sweeney's criticism aside, the Massachusetts law was the product of efforts by a remarkably disparate group. Among those attending the signing ceremony and praised by Romney for their efforts were federal Medicaid director Dennis Smith, Heritage Foundation analyst Robert E. Moffit, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Jonathan Gruber.

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