Making the Connection: Commonwealth Connector's Jon Kingsdale

December 1, 2007

Perhaps it's no coincidence that former historian Jon Kingsdale, PhD, finds himself overseeing one of the most progressive healthcare initiatives in the country, the Massachusetts Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority. The Connector facilitates the purchase of health insurance for individuals and small businesses across New England.

Kingsdale, who earned a doctorate in economic history and a bachelor's degree in history, has been the executive director since June 2006. His academic training is more relevant than one might guess to carry out Massachusetts' landmark Health Care Reform, enacted in April 2006.

A historical perspective offers a way to analyze health policy, "as an organic development over time, rather than just a cross-sectional comparison," Kingsdale explains.

Americans generally have rejected universal coverage, which makes the Massachusetts effort even more risky, as well as potentially groundbreaking for the entire country. Kingsdale has taken special care to conserve and build on, rather than squander, broad popular and political support for Massachusetts healthcare reform.

The Connector's most immediate challenge is to inform and enroll Massachusetts residents, according to Kingsdale.

A 2007 survey conducted by the Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy (HCFP), shows that the effort appears to be succeeding. The survey indicates that the overall uninsured rate dropped from 6.4% to 5.7%, and the number of people without coverage fell from 395,000 to 355,000.

"Even in the early phase of the law's implementation, these findings confirm our success in reducing the number of uninsured people across the Commonwealth," says the state's Secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby, MD.

"People should have financial access to one of the necessities of modern life-medical care," Kingsdale says. "In all too many cases, individuals have gone without health insurance, despite having serious, chronic conditions. Financial protection and access to medical care are critical; medical debt is the number-one cause of individual bankruptcy. In addition, if society is expected to take care of serious medical needs, then it is incumbent on everyone to chip in.