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Mass. Bill Requires Health Coverage

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Another aspect that may change is the $295 annual fee that the bill would require companies to pay for each employee they do not provide with insurance. Legislative leaders have insisted that this money be fed into the pool that would subsidize low-cost policies for the uninsured, but Romney said that would be unnecessary.

"That's likely to be adjusted by me," he said -- potentially through the use of a line-item veto.

This is how Massachusetts leaders envision the plan would work:

Uninsured people earning less than the federal poverty threshold would be able to purchase subsidized policies that have no premiums, and would be responsible for very small co-payment fees for emergency-room visits and other services. Those earning between that amount and three times the poverty-level amount would be able to buy subsidized policies with premiums based on their ability to pay. Though no maximum premium is set in the bill, legislators' intent seems to be for it to top out at about $200 to $250 per month.

All residents will have to provide details about their health insurance policy on their state income tax returns in 2008. Those who do not have insurance would first lose their personal state tax exemption, perhaps worth $150, and later face penalties equal to half the cost of the cheapest policy they should have bought. That might work out to $1,200 per year, officials said. Those who cannot find an affordable plan could obtain a waiver.

Enforcement of the requirement will not be done by hospitals, officials said: They will treat uninsured patients as before.

The bill's passage was celebrated as a victory in the state legislature, with House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi (D) telling colleagues that they had succeeded where other states had failed.

"We did something to solve the problem," he said.

The same message might provide a political boost to Romney, who is considering a presidential run in 2008. By proving he can work with Democrats, and find a health-care solution that relies on the private sector, Romney can portray himself as an executive who can work across the aisle in harshly partisan times.

"It might help him to say, 'Look, I have a solution for health insurance,' " said Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of history at Boston University.


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