Is Massachusetts' Health Plan Working?

Kelly Wallace healthcare Massachusetts
For most of the last decade, Madelyn Rhenisch of Boston was uninsured and too ill to work.

So last fall, when then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney kicked off his state's universal health care system, CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallace reports, Rhenisch jumped at the chance to become the first enrollee.

"Oh my gosh, I can now not make that the primary anxiety of my life. Will I get sick? Can I get better? Can I go to the doctor?" Rhenisch says.

But signing up people like Rhenisch — who live below the poverty line and get free health care — was easy. A much tougher test is enrolling people with higher incomes who don't have insurance. The more they make, the higher their premium.

Martir Burgos was told her premium would be just $40 a month. She can't afford even that. Bill Walczak, CEO of a community health clinic, says she's not alone.

"They're already taking money that they don't have and trying to spend it on things that they desperately need, like food," Walczak says.

All uninsured residents are required to enroll by July or face tax penalties.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle is changing the culture so that insurance is seen not as a luxury, but as a necessity.

"How do you reach that 24-year-old guy who thinks nothing's going to happen to him and he'd rather buy two six-packs of beer than health insurance," says Grace Moreno.

Despite the challenges, at least 15 other states are following Massachusetts. Two weeks ago, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed his own plan for universal coverage.

It's been called bold and ambitious, but is it doable? Massachusetts may have a better chance of success, given the numbers. Less than 400,000 people are uninsured in Massachusetts. In California, that number is 6.5 million — more than Massachusetts' entire population.

The country is watching to see whether this plan could be a prescription for success — or the wrong diagnosis for health care reform.