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Romney Uses Scalpel Before Signing Massachusetts Health Bill

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Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney cut several provisions, including a dental benefits provision and a penalty on certain businesses, before signing a major health finance reform bill into law.

The law, created by a bill now known as H.B. 4479, could end up requiring most individuals and most employers with 11 or more employees to have health coverage.

The law also will 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.

Romney, a Republican, vetoed 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 document listing the H.B. 4479 provisions that he vetoed.

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 also used a line-item veto to delete 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.

He also vetoed several other sections, saying they 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.

H.B. 4479 has had several bill numbers over the course of its life. H.B. 4850, the version approved by state lawmakers, passed 154-2 in the House and 37-0 in the Senate. Leaders of the Massachusetts House and Senate say they believe they have the votes to override Romney’s line-item vetoes.


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