Support for Massachusetts health law unscathed by website woes: poll

BOSTON Mon Jun 16, 2014 1:11pm EDT

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BOSTON (Reuters) - Public support for Massachusetts’ 2006 healthcare law has remained above 60 percent despite a rocky rollout of the state’s new health insurance website, according to a poll from The Boston Globe and The Harvard School of Public Health.

The law served as a model for the 2010 Affordable Care Act mandating universal health insurance coverage nationwide, but the state's website was retailored last year to meet the freshly implemented federal standards. Like other ACA-compliant websites, it has experienced glitches, including crashes and long processing times.

Poll results showed 63 percent of surveyed Massachusetts residents support the state law, the same percentage as in a similar poll in 2011 before the Affordable Care Act took effect and the state website was altered.

"We have eight years of support for this law," said Robert J. Blendon, the coordinator of the poll and a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard’s School of Public Health. "The fact that computers aren’t working well is unlikely to change that."

The results suggest that the website’s problems are invisible to many state residents, who may have no need to interact with it regularly, Blendon said. The poll showed just 46 percent of respondents were aware of the website's problems.

Massachusetts’ healthcare law, passed under former Republican Governor Mitt Romney, mandated all residents buy health insurance and expanded access to Medicaid. President Barack Obama called it a model for the federal law, the centerpiece of his domestic policy agenda, dubbed Obamacare.

Massachusetts residents’ support for Obamacare is 57 percent, the poll found, above the 41 percent support seen nationwide in a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll in April.

Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the architects of Obamacare, said Massachusetts’ relatively high opinion of the federal law is a reflection of the state plan's success.

Proponents of the Massachusetts and federal healthcare laws say they saves lives by helping the poorest receive affordable medical treatment. Critics say the federal law has forced some people into more expensive plans and is an unnecessary and costly extension of government control.

The poll of 506 Massachusetts adults was conducted from May 27 to June 2. The margin of error is +/- 5.3 percentage points.

(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Jim Loney)

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