Massachusetts Business Leaders Move to Fill Access Gap
Although Massachusetts HMO executives and business leaders succeeded in defeating Question 5, a universal health care ballot initiative, they are now participating in a state-commissioned task force to work with state officials to "increase access to health care" with a "slower approach," the Boston Business Journal reports. The committee recently released findings that called on the state to "take incremental steps" in providing coverage to the state's 365,000 uninsured residents, noting that the incremental approach "has worked in the past, with the rate of uninsured dropping in recent years." Susan Connolly, a task force member and a consultant at Boston-based William M. Mercer, said that Question 5's "radical change" would have "destroy[ed]" the current health care system, and that the committee hopes to "get the private marketplace and legislators (and) regulators to be creative -- to structure insurance products to make them more affordable." She explained that the state's "main problem" with its insurance system is the presence of three major plans "offering pretty much the same providers and care -- each facing equally rising costs." Tasked with developing ways to improve access to health coverage, the committee is considering how to "[r]estructur[e] the relationships between insurers and providers to offer more choices," and design "inexpensive and attractive" insurance packages for individuals who are employed but do not receive health insurance. The task force will reconvene on Dec. 18 to continue the debate on effective methods to cover the Bay State's uninsured. Meanwhile, Gov. Paul Cellucci (D) has announced proposals to make health insurance less costly for small businesses and more accessible for between 50,000 and 100,000 uninsured workers in Massachusetts. Rich Copp, a spokesperson for the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said that the administration would like to add 100,000 workers to the state's Insurance Partnership, an employer insurance subsidy program that currently pays $400-$1,000 towards the purchase of an employee's health insurance at companies with 50 workers or fewer. Although some employers have applauded the subsidy approach, it maintains its share of "skeptics." National Federation of Independent Business State Director Bill Vernon said that although he supports subsidies, he is not certain "if it's possible to provide affordable coverage for all, even with subsidies." Michael Miller, a policy analyst with the Boston advocacy group Health Care for All, said, "If an employer is not offering health care benefits now, they probably don't have the labor market forcing them to do it," casting "doubts" that the subsidy "is sufficient to encourage employers who don't already offer insurance." So far, the state program has had "limited appeal," with only 5,000 to 6,000 employers signing up for the program since January 1999, according to Copp (Connolly/Mason, Boston Business Journal, 11/20).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.