Each of America's 50 states are laboratories for democracy, so it will be fascinating to watch how an experiment in universal health care in Massachusetts turns out.
If the plan succeeds, it's a virtual guarantee that others states or the federal government will follow Massachusetts. If it flops, policy wonks will head back to the drawing board.
Under legislation that Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has pledged to sign, that state's legislature plans to bring virtually all citizens of the state under a health insurance safety net. If the bill works as expected, more than 500,000 currently uninsured citizens will be covered over the next three years.
The legislation, a product of a lengthy review process and considerable give-and-take between the Democratic legislature and a Republican governor, requires all state residents to obtain health insurance by July 1, 2007. The bill includes tax incentives for those who cannot afford to buy health insurance and tax penalties for those who can afford but choose not to buy health insurance. State government will subsidize private insurance plans for the working poor who cannot afford insurance and expand the number of children eligible for free coverage. Businesses with more than 10 employees that do not provide insurance will be assessed up to $295 per year per employee.
The Massachusetts plan is the latest in a series of efforts by state governments to address the problem of the ininsured. Efforts in Minnesota and Vermont to cover all citizens have failed while Maine had broadened coverage through a combination of tax increases on business and expanded government programs.
What's striking about the Massachusetts plan is that it's drawn support from so many disparate participants in the political system, ranging from social engineers to practical politicians to the business community.
While it's gratifying that a consensus was reached on one possible solution to a seemingly intractable problem, it's no guarantee that the plan will be both affordable and successful. Only time can answer that question.