The pioneering health insurance exchange in Massachusetts -
the model for President Barack Obama’s health care law
- is headed for the scrap heap. The state wants to merge it with the federal enrollment site because it is so dysfunctional.

With terrible timing, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) scholars say it is working really well and credit it with 2.9% decreased mortality compared to other states. They estimate that the Massachusetts' health reform law has prevented approximately 320 deaths per year—one life saved for each 830 people gaining insurance - and use it as evidence that government health care expansion will save lives.

Maybe it will, but Massachusetts disagrees it should be them doing it, regardless of what wealthy academics at Ivy League schools with good health care believe. They want to spread out the cost of those lives among 300 million other Americans.

"Given that Massachusetts' health reform was in many ways the model for the Affordable Care Act, it is critical to understand the law's potential implications for population health," said Benjamin Sommers, assistant professor of health policy and economics at HSPH and lead author of the analysis. "What we found in Massachusetts after reform was a significant reduction in deaths from the kinds of illnesses where we expect health care to have the biggest impact, including infections, cancer, and cardiovascular disease."

Sommers and colleagues—including senior author Katherine Baicker, professor of health economics at HSPH, and economist Sharon Long of the Urban Institute—looked at changes in mortality rates for adults ages 20-64 in Massachusetts before the state's health reform (2001 to 2005) and after (2007 to 2010). They compared the changes in Massachusetts counties to changes in demographically similar counties in other states that had not enacted health reform during the same period. Data came from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Census Bureau.

The researchers found that the decline in mortality was concentrated among causes of death most likely to be preventable or treatable with timely health care, and they found that Massachusetts counties with lower median incomes and a higher percentage of uninsured adults before the law was passed—areas likely to have experienced the greatest increase in access to care under reform—gained the largest health benefits. In addition, the decline in mortality was nearly twice as large for minorities as it was for whites.

The results also showed that after the expansion there were fewer adults in Massachusetts without insurance, fewer cost-related barriers to care, more outpatient visits, and improvements in self-reported health.

"Our findings add to a growing body of evidence showing that health insurance makes a positive difference in people's lives," said Sommers. "How closely the impact of the Affordable Care Act will mirror the Massachusetts' experience is something we'll have to continue watching closely, but this is certainly encouraging news for the law's potential impact on public health."

 Published in Annals of Internal Medicine.
Source: Harvard School of Public Health