[JURIST] Massachusetts lawmakers have approved a sweeping health care plan [House No. 4850 text; summary, PDF] that would require all residents to have health coverage or face penalties. Massachusetts is the first state to approve a health insurance reform [IssueSource backgrounder] plan of this nature; Maine's health care plan was considerably expanded under a 2003 law [PDF text; overview], but the Maine scheme is based on voluntary compliance. The bill proposes to provide health coverage to nearly 95 percent of the half-million state residents without insurance before the year 2009 by offering the lowest earning residents low or no cost plans, with state-paid premiums and co-pays. Individuals who can afford their own health coverage will face tax penalties if they do not choose a plan before July 1, 2007. If they continuously fail to enroll in a health plan, they will be required to pay the state half of the price of the lowest plan.
In order to help residents more easily afford health insurance, insurance agencies will also be required to expand their coverage with state subsidized low cost plans and reduced benefits. The bill will also pass responsibility to businesses, requiring those with more than ten employees to provide health care coverage or pay a $295 fee per worker. The nearly unanimous decision by the state legislature, the Massachusetts General Court [official website], comes in response to a growing nationwide concern over an increasing number of citizens who cannot afford the rising costs of health care. The bill was passed by the state House 155-2 and was passed unanimously Tuesday by the state Senate. Governor Mitt Romney [official profile] has indicated that he will sign the legislation. Reuters has more. The Boston Globe provides a brief summary of the legislation.