In today’s Globe (“Lost in the Labyrinth“), columnist Sam Allis explores “the labyrinth called Chapter 58″ and gets a “case of the vapors.” From all appearances, seems like he talked with Codman Square ED Bill Walczak and no one else. Bill is a dynamic health center director who’s done a great job at Codman; he’s also been a persistent critic of Chapter 58 since day one. In the process, Allis seriously misinforms his readers:
Walczak ran the numbers on a hypothetical 58-year-old woman who earns $32,000 a year. Under Commonwealth Choice, her cheapest option costs her $4,400 a year in premiums. There will also be a co-pay every time she sees a doctor, but she first must exhaust a $2,000 deductible to get anything back at all. If hospitalized, she’ll face a 20 percent coinsurance payment. …
Everyone in the state must have annual proof of membership in some health insurance program to avoid fines. Without proof, the state will come after you. The fine for not enrolling in a Chapter 58 program can run as high as $912 a year. Say I’m earning $31,212 – 300 percent of poverty and, like the hypothetical woman, am forced into Commonwealth Choice. But I don’t sign up for it because my company has dropped overtime pay, my wife’s salary has been cut in half, and my balloon mortgage just ballooned.
So what’s going to happen to a criminal like me, or the 26-year-old criminal struggling in a start-up, or the criminal restaurant cook? Will we be dragged off in the middle of the night by storm troopers and thrown in the clink? Will the state garnish our wages and hasten our descent into bankruptcy?
Well, no. In fact, the “hypothetical 58-year-old woman” will be subject to no penalties. And nobody will be “dragged off in the middle of the night by storm troopers and thrown in the clink.” Geesh, Sam, don’t let facts get in the way of a juicy line. Just a patina of fact checking here could have avoided misleading your readers.
There’s lots more to chew on here. Just one more thing for now, not for Sam, but for Bill. OK, Bill, we know you hate Chapter 58. What, please, after two years, is your alternative? It’s not like the State could have done nothing and kept the status quo. The “status quo” — to the extent there was one — was a status quo MINUS hundreds of millions in federal Medicaid dollars exclusively devoted to the Massachusetts health care safety net.
Lots of folks know the Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey gets to experience what the world we be like had he not been born. We need to envision a Massachusetts health care “Pottersville” that shows what the world would be like had we not done Chapter 58. Here are just a few elements — a massive financial crater right in the middle of our health care safety net (with community health centers in the middle of the bulls eye), rising numbers of uninsured, exploding uncompensated care costs, and providers screaming that the sky is falling.
And that’s the truth.