Monday, March 05, 2007

Massachusetts Mandatory "Health Plan"

Did the legislators who drew up Massachusetts new health plan talk to ordinary people? People like the peripatetic adjuncts who teach most of the classes in the universities that pay their tenured professors upwards of $100,000? Or just to the well-compensated experts whose own jobs include generous benefits? A college degree is now required for many jobs that simply do not pay a living wage. Look around at who it is who makes $30,000 per year. People whose expensive education went to hone skills that are undervalued in the free market graduate with debt. As they work at jobs that pay barely enough to meet their current expenses they are slipping into poverty-- but they haven't slipped far enough to be caught by the safety net for the poor. This week the Stagesource "hotline" for Boston actors listed an employment opportunity for full time work as historical characters, interacting ad lib with the public and enacting scripted scenes with fellow actors-- for $7 per hour. The Newton Tab classified advertises a customer service job for a "detail oriented person with good computer skills" for $10 per hour, and a 32 hour per week receptionist job that requires "computer proficiency" for a salary in "the low $20s". 32 hours per week at a Day Job is about all a serious artist can work and still create on a professional (if mostly unpaid) level. I think Massachusetts may be about to exile many people I love and admire. I fear that there may even be suicides prompted by this mandate. I realize that the law was passed by the legislature with the best of intentions. But it will be devastating: to visual artists, free lance musicians and writers, dancers; To people who make charity and service to the community their first priority, who do political or social work with non-profits and in home day care; To teachers of the arts to individuals and in classes outside of the schools, adjunct college teachers and high school and elementary subs. To IT workers who built the "knowledge economy" of this state but have now been reduced to sporadic no-benefit temp jobs because they have been replaced by young workers or immigrants. These groups have made contributions to the community that far outweigh the compensation their skills and energy and talent and education can command. These people are likely to make around $30,000 per year in jobs that do not provide benefits but pay too much to qualify for health care subsidy under the new law. They've been getting along by living frugally. They taking very good care of their health and pray that they won't be felled by a major illness or run over by a truck. Most live with roommates or share a house or condo. The kind of comfortable apartment that I was able to rent for $40 a month when I moved to Boston in 1968 now costs $1500 per month, and is out of reach for a person making $30,000 per year. Now, they will be required to purchase health insurance at nearly $300 per month for an individual-- more than $500 if they have the bad luck to be 50 years old--with a $2000 deductible. $4000-$8000 per year! Up to 1/4 of their incomes! For COVERAGE, not care; and with no guarantee that the medical needs that may arise will in fact be covered. Fines for failure to buy in this year are small: a few hundred dollars-- but next year they will go up to one half of the insurance purchase price and in 2008 will be a full blown crisis for the presently uninsured and anyone who joins their ranks when Massachusetts businesses realize that they can cut costs by shifting their medical insurance obligations to the employee and the state. What will these people do? Where can they go? Their entire emotional and financial support network will be in the same situation. This mandate threatens to make lives that, while precarious, have had balance and dignity, simply impossible.

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