By Rick Sobey
LOWELL -- As states across the country prepare for the Affordable Care Act on Jan. 1, Massachusetts' top health-care leader said on Tuesday that the state is well-positioned to handle the transition but concerns remain as the controversial legislation is implemented.
John Polanowicz, the state's secretary of health and human services, told The Sun's editorial board that the commonwealth's landmark health-care legislation in 2006 will make the transformation easier as the Affordable Care Act kicks in next year.
"We are a leader in this," said Polanowicz, who was sworn in as secretary in January. "They've used us as a template. It's not as close as 2006, so there's still adjustments to be made, but the components of the Affordable Care Act are really good for Massachusetts.
"The enhanced revenues, the opportunity for tax credits with small employers. There are many areas and components to look forward to," he added.
The Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010 and then upheld in Supreme Court in 2012, aims to increase the quality and affordability of health insurance, lower the uninsured rate, and reduce health-care costs. There are mandates, subsidies and insurance exchanges to increase coverage and affordability.
Polanowicz, who has served as president of St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, president and CEO at Marlboro Hospital and vice president of operations at UMass Memorial Medical Center, said that Massachusetts has a leg up because of the 2006 legislation, mandating that nearly every resident of Massachusetts obtain health insurance.
"We're in a really good position," he said. "We've done a tremendous amount of work since 2006, and we've done coverage right with 97 percent of residents covered. Four-in-five people have seen primary care doctors in the last year, so we're looking good."
Despite the positive gains from the last seven years, Polanowicz said the state remains concerned about remaining the "nation leader in health-care coverage." He said it's essential to not lose of any of the gains during the transition on Jan. 1, and to not slip from the 97 percent coverage.
"My office and the governor want to make sure that if there's money on the table, then we bring it to Massachusetts," he said. "We need to get every dollar that we are entitled to under the programs to help continue supporting our health care system."
Polanowicz also said it's important to get MassHealth and Medicaid closer to covering the cost of care. He said there was progress in 2006, but the recession hit and "all bets were off."
"We don't want to disincentivize providers to care for MassHealth patients, and we need to use resources from the Affordable Care Act to do that," he said. "We need to move away from the fee-for-service into a focus on health, prevention and wellness because that's where we'll save some money."
With open enrollment starting on Oct. 1, he said there will be more health plans and an easier platform for shopping for insurance. The Massachusetts Association of Portuguese Speakers in Lowell is one of 10 organizations across the state that received grants for the Health Connector's Navigator program, in which residents can learn about new coverage options available through the Affordable Care Act and find the coverage that meets their needs.
For more information, visit www.maps-inc.org or call 978-970-1250.
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