Massachusetts is getting a sweeping new “universal health insurance” law that could transform the state’s health finance market.
If implemented as written, the new law would require employers with more than 10 workers to provide health coverage or pay a $295-per-worker tax.
The law also would combine the small group and non-group health insurance markets; penalize employers with 10 or more employees whose workers make heavy use of free medical care; and require individuals with incomes over 300% of the federal poverty level to get health coverage from employers or buy it themselves from private insurers by July 1, 2007.
But the bill also would require health care providers to offer better cost and quality data; permit health maintenance organizations to sell high-deductible HMO plans that are compatible with health savings accounts; and ban the imposition of new health mandates until 2008.
The bill, H.B. 4850, is a conference report, or compromise bill, that combines provisions of House Bill 4479 with Senate Bill 2282. Lawmakers released the final version of the health reform bill the day before members of the state Senate approved it 37-0 and members of the state House approved it 154-2.
Aides to Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican who is believed to be planning to run for president in 2008, said at press time he will be signing the bill this week.
Business groups and insurance groups have gone to court to block implementation of other, different universal health insurance laws in Massachusetts and other states. In many cases, universal health plan opponents have argued the laws violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
It was not clear at press time whether business groups or other groups would be suing to block implementation of all or part of H.B. 4850.
America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, has welcomed passage of the bill but notes that lawmakers left many details to regulators. AHIP says it will be working closely with state regulators on implementation.
At press time, the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, Boston, was still studying the final text of the bill and not commenting on specific provisions. But Eric Linzer, a vice president at MAHP, says his group was pleased to see lawmakers come up with a compromise reform plan.
“We think the plan is an important step toward improving the quality of the health care system and expanding coverage,” Linzer says.
Meanwhile, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Boston, a powerful state business group, and Families USA, Washington, a consumer group, both issued statements celebrating final passage of the reform bill.
The bill is “a forward-looking effort to expand access to health care to residents of the state and to bring health care costs under control,” AIM says.
Implementing the reforms described in the bill will put “Massachusetts at or near the top of the class in providing affordable coverage for the uninsured,” Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack says in his group’s statement. “Today’s compromise sets a number of important precedents for Massachusetts residents that are truly historic from a national perspective.”
General bill provisions would:
–Combine the Massachusetts small-group and non-group markets in July 2007, in an effort to reduce rates for individuals.
–Give health maintenance organizations the ability to offer high-deductible health plans that are compatible with the health savings account program.