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Step forward on health

THE BIPARTISAN campaign to expand health coverage in Massachusetts passed a milestone yesterday when the first person applied for comprehensive insurance under the health reform law. This law is less than six months old, and changes will be necessary as experience dictates. But so far, progress in implementing it has been impressive.

The goal is to substantially reduce the number of uninsured people in the state, which the Romney administration estimates at 372,000. One of them is Madeline Rhenisch of Brighton, who with Governor Mitt Romney at her side filed her application for a new Commonwealth Care insurance policy at the Neponset Health Center in Dorchester.

These policies are first being offered to people who earn less than the federal poverty level -- $9,800 a year for a single person -- but do not qualify for MassHealth, the usual insurance for poor people. They are a bargain, with premiums defrayed by the state. Romney hopes to enroll 50,000 people.

A tougher challenge begins Jan. 1, when the state will offer subsidized policies to those earning up to 300 percent of the poverty limit, who will pay part of the premium on a sliding scale. There are gaps in the law, as the Globe reported yesterday. Children from families that earn up to 300 percent of the poverty level are covered in another program , and need to be enrolled separately.

Romney, a staunch advocate, will be leaving office. Deval Patrick, the Democratic candidate for governor, is committed to the new law. GOP nominee Kerry Healey has not yet come out vigorously in support. Leadership from the next governor will be essential, as will continued support from the Legislature.

The new Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector has done a skillful job of rolling out the policies. Three board members were chatting amiably at the Neponset center yesterday. If people as politically diverse as union activist Celia Wcislo, Romney budget chief Thomas Trimarco, and Dukakis administration veteran Dolores Mitchell can stay united on the same goal -- covering the uninsured -- this law has good prospects for success.

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