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Bay State Governor Trims Universal Health Bill

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Lawmakers may be taking another crack at a major new Massachusetts health finance reform measure.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney used line-item veto powers to cut a dental benefits provision, a business penalty provision and several other sections Wednesday before signing the bill, H.B. 4479.

H.B. 4479 could end up requiring most individuals and most employers with 11 or more employees to maintain health coverage.

The bill also could expand public insurance programs aimed at low-income residents; create new health insurance subsidies, to help moderate-income residents buy health coverage; impose a temporary moratorium on the creation of new benefits mandates; help young adults stay on their parents’ health insurance plans; and create a system of penalties and incentives to promote compliance with the insurance purchasing requirements.

But leaders of the Massachusetts House and Senate are criticizing Romney’s editing of the bill and suggesting that lawmakers may try to override the changes.

The version of the bill that lawmakers sent Romney, H.B. 4850, passed 154-2 in the House and 37-0.

Romney changed the H.B. 4850 by eliminating a provision that would have provided dental benefits for adult Medicaid recipients. New studies are showing that improving patients’ dental health can improve their general health, but implementing the provision would have cost $75 million per year, and only about 40% of Massachusetts employers provide dental coverage, Romney says.

Romney also deleted a provision that would have imposed a $295 per employee fine on businesses with 11 or more full-time employees that fail to provide employee coverage.

The fee is “not necessary to implement or finance health care reform,” Romney says in a statement.

The law created by H.B. 4479 still includes a “free rider surcharge” section. That section would penalize employers with more than 10 employees that fail to provide health coverage if the employees make heavy use of free care from Massachusetts hospitals. In some cases, the state could make affected employers pay up to 100% of the cost of employees’ care.

Romney says he deleted several other sections because the sections violated state laws or constitutional provisions or clashed with federal laws and regulations.

Romney says, for example, that a provision that would make public health coverage available to low-income legal immigrants should take the financial status of the immigrants’ sponsors into account. Immigrants’ sponsors promise to take responsibility for immigrants’ welfare.


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