Massachusetts to Vote on Universal Health Care

Joseph Landais, his wife and three children are among the more than 500,000 Massachusetts residents without health insurance.

So when the Landaises need a doctor, they head straight to the emergency room, which isn't a good solution for them or the hospital.

"My sister … broke her leg from about three years ago, and we're still paying off that bill," said Christine Landais, Joseph Landais' daughter.

"It clogs the system up, and we get a backlog," said Dr. David M. Barrett, president and chief executive officer of Lahey Clinic, which is based in Burlington, Mass. "It's not unusual for people to have to wait four, five hours for care."

Under the new system, residents who made less than $9,500 a year would get free health insurance. Those making $54,000 would pay the premium for the new health-care policy, which would be around $200 per month. Those making less than $54,000 would pay only a portion of the premium. For example, someone making $15,000 a year would pay $2.31 a week.

"Everybody pays something. No more entire free rides," Gov. Mitt Romney said. "Everybody pays what they can afford."

The new law also would require small-business owners who didn't provide their employees with health insurance to pay $300 per worker each year into a state fund. That doesn't sit well with Betty Ann Wasilunas.

"You want me to start picking up people's insurance?" said Wasilunas, who owns Vissoi Salon in Westwood, Mass. "I think it's out of this world. I think it's crazy!"

Still, many experts say after years of failed attempts in several states and by the federal government, the Massachusetts bill, which stresses individual responsibility, could serve as a national model -- and that's good news for the Landais family.

How can Massachusetts afford to do this?

"We spend roughly $1 billion a year providing free health care to people who don't have insurance, and the cost of helping those people buy insurance is closer to $650 million," Romney said.

The state government would keep any money it saved in a special pool in case it incorrectly calculated the cost of universal health care, according to Romney.

"Ultimately, we believe that people having insurance will mean people can go to their primary-care physician and clinic first and that means better health-care treatment," Romney said. "People who have insurance go to the hospital far less often and have much lower charges than people without it."

Some people are speculating that Romney, a Republican, will run for president in 2008, but Romney said he's "not sure of future plans at this stage."

He said he was pleased that as a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, he was able to "introduce a plan to get everybody insured, work with the legislature to come up with a plan … to get the job done."

"People want problem solving at the state and federal level," Romney said. "I hope that [this] is at least passed on to other states."