One View on What's Wrong With the Massachusetts Health Care Reform Act

In yesterday’s post on Darren Abernethy’s paper on Fair Share statutes, I ended up riffing on the question of whether the Maryland legislature, by putting before the courts a particularly bad version of such a statute, had distorted the development of the law of ERISA preemption in a manner that would only hurt the cause of those who favor state health insurance mandates. I wondered whether the case law would develop differently if more balanced statutes, like the Massachusetts Health Care Reform Act, were analyzed by courts without the landscape of ERISA preemption having already been filled in by the decision holding the Maryland act to be preempted.

Critics of the Massachusetts act would likely argue that the Massachusetts version is so rife with problems that it is just as well if the legal environment, now that the Fourth Circuit has found the Maryland version of these types of laws to be preempted, is not too welcoming to such acts. That seems like a fair conclusion after reading law professor David Hyman’s piece on the “good, the bad and the ugly” in the Massachusetts statute, in which he pretty much takes the statute to task for being a poorly designed piece of state law. The Workplace Prof passed the article along, and you can find it here.

To the extent that the author’s analysis of the statute is right - that as economics and policy it just doesn’t work - it seems to support two points I have raised before on this blog concerning the Massachusetts act. First, that the questionable elements of the various acts enacted by the states suggest that federal preemption is a good thing, as a bulwark against what may be ill-conceived ideas by state governments when it comes to the topic of health insurance reform. And second, that the problem with these types of acts is that they play at the margins, and neither can nor do address the real cause of the problem of the uninsured, namely the incredible - and ever increasing - costs to employers of subsidizing health insurance in this country. This second point is one that appears to animate Professor Hyman’s piece, as he reflects on the fact that the Massachusetts statute has problems that stem from the particularly high cost of health care in Massachusetts relative to the rest of the country, as well as on the fact that the statute’s mandates are distorted by the high rate of health care inflation.