In Massachusetts, a nonpartisan good deed

In an era of political enmity, a bill emerges for universal healthcare.

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It shines like a nonpartisan good deed in a naughty partisan world - the Massachusetts first-ever health plan providing almost universal coverage for its citizens.

Full disclosure requires me to reveal that I have a vested interest in the subject of health insurance. In 1970 I wrote a book titled "Don't Get Sick In America." It argued that with ballooning healthcare costs, national health insurance was an issue whose time had come. Sen. Edward Kennedy wrote an upbeat introduction. We were both a little premature.

Many an effort to introduce national health insurance failed - most spectacularly, the effort led by first lady Hillary Clinton, which foundered on a TV commercial featuring a fictitious anti-insurance couple named Harry and Louise.

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The Massachusetts plan was four years in the making. It represented an initiative that started with the conservative Republican governor Mitt Romney with a big assist from liberal Senator Kennedy. It involved many pressures from many sources. Governor Romney personally delivered letters to leaders of the legislature. Kennedy spent a lot of time on the telephone prodding the lawmakers.

In the end, supporters of the plan threatened legislative leaders with a petition drive that would put on the ballot a more extensive health plan if they didn't pass the moderate coalition proposal.

And so last week, to the amazement of many citizens who hadn't followed developments, the legislature passed the bill by an overwhelming majority.

Under the bill, all Massachusetts residents are required to obtain health insurance coverage by July 1, 2007. Businesses with more than 10 workers are required to buy insurance for them. The state government will provide subsidies to help business buy insurance for the working poor.

In this era of bitter political animosities how was it possible to reach this accord?

Paul Ginsberg, president of the nonpartisan center for Studying Health System Change, said, "For a conservative Republican this is individual responsibility. For a Democrat this is government helping those who need help."

And for someone as startled as I was by this evidence of political maturity, it was nothing short of a miracle.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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