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Health Care Reform Lauded

Study shows most Mass. physicians approve of the 2006 reform law

By Amira Abulafi, Contributing Writer

Approximately 70 percent of in-state physicians support the current Massachusetts Health Care Reform Law that authorized near universal health care coverage for the state in 2006, according to a study released by the Harvard School of Public Health earlier this month.

The law requires almost every Massachusetts resident to have health insurance, provides free or subsidized coverage for some low-income individuals, and is the first of its kind to be enacted in the country. National policymakers have closely analyzed the act, which was signed into law by former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, as a potential model for national health care reform.

The HSPH study sought to investigate physicians’ views on the law, which researchers said can provide insight into how the reform is actually functioning and whether it has affected access to health care.

As part of the study, the researchers asked approximately 2000 practicing physicians in Massachusetts about 22 different aspects of their practice and whether these had been affected by the law’s passage.

Physicians were asked to rate the bill’s effect on everything from their ability to get needed referrals to their patients’ waiting time.

In 21 of the areas, the majority of physicians reported that the law had either a positive or negligible effect on their practice.

Robert J. Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the School of Public Health who was a co-author of the study, said he and his colleagues found little evidence to support the claim that the bill has limited access to health care and lowered its quality—a popular  criticism among many of the law’s opponents.

In fact, Blendon said, many doctors “thought the law was unbelievably successful in helping those who were not insured get care.”

The study concluded that its findings “suggest that it is possible both to provide near-universal coverage of the population” and have a system that most physicians believe will not impede their ability to provide high-quality care.

“The fact that physicians say that health care is not deteriorating [as a result of the law] is very important in this debate,” Blendon said. “This is the only survey that has ever asked physicians broadly what they felt about the law.”

But the study’s researchers also acknowledged that the reform’s positive results have come with “trade-offs,” including administrative burdens and higher costs. About 50 percent of the physicians polled said they believed the law was “hurting” the overall cost of health care in Massachusetts.

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