Obama expected to link Mass., federal health laws

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When President Barack Obama lands in Boston to talk about the federal health insurance overhaul Wednesday, he'll be hoping to draw parallels with Massachusetts' landmark 2006 health law.

Obama's message: Be patient.

After Massachusetts first passed its law, the rate of people signing up grew only sluggishly at first. But as deadlines approached, the pace picked up. And today, the law remains popular. It even provided a blueprint for Obama's law.

"Imagine the stories that were probably generated at the time about how the whole thing was going to fail when, in fact, the opposite turned out to be true," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

(Read more: Six questions for Obamacare czar Kathleen Sebelius)

While more people did sign up as the deadline approached in Massachusetts, its law never faced the kind of high-profile computer woes plaguing the federal law, nor the predictions of failure the federal law has.

President Obama to give health care speech

In part that's because Massachusetts' law had a wide array of supporters, including Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, who signed it into law; the Democratic-led Legislature and the business and health care communities.

Another supporter was the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was on hand for the signing ceremony at Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, the same stage Obama will use Wednesday to talk about his law.

Even as they celebrated the bill's passage, political leaders in Massachusetts conceded it was just the first of two big steps they hoped to take to tackle the health insurance problem.

The first was to expand the number of insured residents are much as possible. Already at an insured rate of more than 90 percent, Massachusetts brought that to about 98 percent with the 2006 law.

But the law did little to help lawmakers take the second step: to attack the problem of escalating health care costs that threatened to undermine it. Eventually, they passed a sweeping cost control bill.

That 2012 state law is designed in part to encourage the creation of organizations that take a more coordinated approach to medicine. It's expected to save Massachusetts up to $200 billion over the next 15 years.

While it is generally popular, the 2006 law hasn't been universally embraced in Massachusetts.

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Like the federal law, the state law includes a penalty charged individuals deemed able to purchase insurance, but who refuse. Since the law took effect, thousands of Massachusetts taxpayers have opted not to get insurance and pay the penalty instead, meaning the state has fallen short of the elusive goal of coverage for all.

Other challenges have come about since the law took effect, including a critical shortage of primary care physicians, according to a report by the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Jon Kingsdale, the former head of the agency that oversees state health care law, disputed claims of a doctor shortage, saying "it's very clear that people got more care and care they needed" after the law went into effect.

Among the biggest differences between the federal and state laws is the public's perception. In Massachusetts, the state law is generally seen as a positive step. And while there was some skepticism in the state in 2006, the law never met the fierce opposition the federal law has encountered.

By The Associated Press

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