Despite our state’s stumbles out of the blocks and hiccups along the way in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent study ranked Massachusetts’ response second out of every state.
Only Hawaii fared better, according to “The Scorecard on State Health System Performance.”
The Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that supports independent research on health care issues, ranked states based on 56 measures of health care access and quality, service use and cost, health disparities and health outcomes during 2020.
In the states that moved fastest to offer shots — Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine — 70% of the population age 12 and older had completed a full vaccine series within 200 days of the vaccine’s availability, the report said.
The stark toll of the pandemic goes well beyond deaths from the virus itself. All states reported more deaths than typical, from COVID-19 and other causes, since the pandemic began in February 2020.
Historically stronger health systems like Massachusetts and Hawaii have had the best health outcomes, including lower rates of preventable deaths and overall healthier populations, the report said.
Massachusetts ranked sixth in the percentage change from 2019 to 2020, with a roughly 5% change in overdose death rates during that period.
The Bay State, however, also ranks first in the nation when it came to health insurance coverage and access to care, with just 3.6% of adults uninsured.
That’s the enduring legacy of RomneyCare, the name given to Gov. Mitt Romney’s health insurance reform law passed by the state Legislature in 2006. The law sought to provide all state residents with access to health insurance and add protections in the event coverage may be lost.
But the report also indicated that while health coverage held steady, use of health services declined.
Spending per person in Medicare declined in all regions, reflecting steep declines in health care use among people 65 and older.
In Massachusetts, that was partially because of mixed messages from the medical community, which initially asked patients to postpone routine procedures and doctors’ visits, only to reverse course due to the adverse effects on their bottom lines.
In New England, spending dropped from just over $10,000 in 2019 to just under $9,500 in 2020.
But when it comes to mortality rates, this study’s numbers don’t tell the whole COVID story.
According to the statistics database Statista, which tracked states’ deaths per 100,000 population, as of June 20, Massachusetts ranked 21st, behind 19 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, while Hawaii recorded the fewest.
And in fewest total deaths per state, as of June 20, Massachusetts ranked 37th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, with 20,818 fatalities, while Hawaii posted the fourth lowest, 1,474.
And not everyone in Massachusetts agreed with the emergency measures taken by Gov. Charlie Baker to combat COVID-19.
In May of last year, less than three months away from the governor’s timeline to lift the remaining COVID-19 restrictions, critics who believed Baker had overstepped his authority asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare his actions unconstitutional.
The same plaintiffs unsuccessfully sued Baker the previous summer, attempting to overturn many of his executive orders that put restrictions on business and other gatherings in place during the pandemic, which the state’s Supreme Judicial Court dismissed.
All of which suggests that no matter how advanced a state’s medical system, accessible its health insurance coverage, or accepting its residents of COVID-mitigation measures, the coronavirus and its many variants still ran their course, preying on the vulnerable and vaccination-averse populations.