Massachusetts launches new health insurance program for poorest residents

Monday, October 2nd 2006, 10:13 pm
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) -- Massachusetts began signing up its poorest residents for low-cost health insurance Monday, the first step in the state's goal to be the first to require all citizens to have health insurance.

"This is a historic day for us," said Gov. Mitt Romney, who signed the state's new health care law in April. "It's real today."

Madeline Rhenisch, 56, will be among about 62,000 of the state's poorest residents living at or below the federal poverty line of about $9,800 a year offered the program. If she qualifies, the state will pay her premiums and she will be responsible for just nominal co-pays.

The unemployed Boston woman said she has spent the money she saved for retirement on doctor's visits.

"I've worked hard all my life. I've paid benefits all my life. I never wanted to be a burden on my family or friends," said Rhenisch, who has been without health insurance for the past eight years. "It's been very embarrassing to have to beg and scratch."

This summer, the federal government gave the state its approval to a first-in-the-nation program that will require everyone 18 and older to carry health insurance. The state's universal health insurance program will use a combination of subsidies and penalties to make coverage more affordable and to encourage people to buy it.

Romney officials used the news conference to press lawmakers to close what they called a "loophole" in the law that fails to require all children have health insurance.

"If there are affordable products out there, all the evidence suggests that parents will cover their children," Health and Human Services Secretary Tim Murphy said.

Murphy said as many as 40,000 children might fall through the holes, but lawmakers said they have already taken steps to expand coverage for children.

Next July, all Massachusetts residents earning more than three times the federal poverty level will be required to have health insurance -- on their own or through work -- or face tax penalties.