Health Care Reform Consensus Reached; Historic Bill to Win Approval This Week

Embarking on a new era of health care reform in Massachusetts, members of a House-Senate Conference Committee today filed comprehensive consensus legislation to cover virtually all of the state’s uninsured residents within three years, State Representative Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover) announced today. The bill is expected to be approved by both chambers and sent to the Governor this week.

Based on the principle of shared responsibility, individuals, employers and government will play an active role in ensuring near-universal access to health care and preserving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

“I am happy to report that the Legislature is going to make real health care reform a reality here in Massachusetts,” said L’Italien. “My colleagues and I have seized this historic opportunity to overhaul a broken system and deliver affordable, quality coverage to nearly all of the state’s uninsured residents over the next three years.”

Major provisions of the legislation include:

  • Individual Mandate: Holding true to a long tradition of Massachusetts “firsts,” the bill creates a first-in-the-nation individual mandate to require all residents who can afford it to purchase health insurance.
  • Employer Responsibility: The legislation creates a new Fair Share Contribution by requiring all businesses to contribute toward employee health insurance costs. This provision levels the playing field to ensure that employers who provide insurance no longer pay twice: once for their own employees and again for their competitors’ employees.
  • New State Subsidies: The bill establishes new state subsidies for individuals with incomes less than 300% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Adults with incomes up to 100% FPL ($9,700) will be eligible for coverage without premiums.
  • MassHealth Expansion: The legislation expands the Commonwealth’s MassHealth program to include children from families up to 300% of FPL ($48,000 for a family of three). In addition, it restores all previously cut benefits, including dental and vision services, chiropractic and prosthetics, and creates a smoking cessation pilot program for Masshealth enrollees.
  • Fair Reimbursement Rates: The bill calls for long overdue increases in reimbursement rates to hospitals, physicians, and community health centers for treating the Commonwealth’s MassHealth patients. These increases are tied to quality and other performance measures.

“The House feels very strongly that everyone should to be part of this solution,” said L’Italien. “We went on record in support of shared responsibility to ensure that government, individuals and businesses are all working towards the same goal of significantly reducing the number of uninsured in Massachusetts and reining in costs for everyone. I am pleased that the final version contains these essential parts.”

Once implemented, the consensus plan will be a national model. “Massachusetts once again leads the nation with an innovative plan that will achieve our longstanding goal of expanding health care for all,” said United States Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts). “We could not have achieved today’s landmark agreement without the strong leadership of Senate President Travaglini and House Speaker DiMasi. Their skill in crafting this legislation and their dedication to seeing it through have been extraordinary. I’m optimistic that it will quickly be signed into law and I’ll continue to fight to keep the federal dollars that will be critical in enabling this plan to become a reality.”