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March 14, 2006
Troubling Direction on Health Care
by John Andrews, MCHC

The health care bill being crafted in the Massachusetts Legislature is moving “in a troubling direction” according to the AFL-CIO (see alert below). Legislators have been working hard to satisfy two business powerhouses on Beacon Hill. The first, the health care industry, wants people to pay more into our inefficient multiple-payer system. The second – businesses who will be tapped to provide health benefits to employees – want to pay as little as possible. The compromise “reform” appears to be a bill that will lock in a system of overpriced, inadequate health insurance. The affordable and comprehensive single-payer solution that is enjoyed by most developed countries in the world is not something that the Legislature is interested in talking about. Once again, we are reminded that vitally needed reforms are not going to happen unless we free Beacon Hill as long as legislators are under the influence of big money lobbyists.

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Alert to AFL-CIO Affiliates, March 14, 2006

Really Bad Health Care Reform Bill Moving in Mass

The MA union movement — led by the MA AFL-CIO — has been working for the past several months to help craft and pass a comprehensive health care reform bill. Unfortunately, after heavy lobbying from the business community, legislators are moving in a really troubling direction, and in fact could end up undermining employer-sponsored coverage in Massachusetts.

If Massachusetts moves in this direction, other states will follow suit.

The Conference Committee is still working on language for a bill, and unfortunately, they have not released anything in writing. We’ve only got a couple of days to weigh in on this really bad policy (which is tough given the absence of paper!). We’re hearing the committee and both chambers will vote it out as early as next Tuesday, and the Governor could sign it shortly thereafter.

We are working on fixes to the problems laid out below, and would be happy to set up a conference call with interested unions to discuss the details, but in the meantime, please reach out to your affiliates in Massachusetts and urge them to vigorously speak out against this horrible bill.

Here’s what we know so far about the big problems in the agreement that’s been reached:

Key problems:

a.. Employer Assessment: The bill requires employers who don’t provide health care to pay an assessment to the state; however, the employer assessment is only $295/worker/year, which falls far short of what most union plans provide. The Building Trades Trust Funds pay more than that in a week. In fact, this provision will actually undermine employer-sponsored coverage because it will be much, much cheaper for employers to drop coverage and simply pay the employer assessment than to actually make health care expenditures on behalf of their workers.

b.. Employers could simply offer access (without making any contribution) to a health care plan and avoid paying even the paltry $295 employer assessment. This is completely unacceptable.

c.. Individual Mandate: The bill requires individuals to purchase health care coverage. The state would subsidize the costs for workers up to 300% of poverty, which will help low-income workers, but leaves middle-class workers horribly exposed.

d.. Employers must reimburse the state when a worker accesses the Free Care Pool: If a worker uses the free care pool more than once/year, the employer will have to reimburse the state for that worker’s use of the pool. Not only does that raise ERISA red flags, it also provides employers with an incentive to fire workers who access publicly-funded health care, or, at the very least, discourage workers from accessing available health care.

There is one good piece in the bill:

a.. The legislature plans to expand children’s SCHIP eligibility to 300% of poverty, and will expand coverage to adults under 200% of poverty.

We are working to improve the core problems in the bill, but we need your affiliates to weigh in with the legislators and send a clear message that the current version is going in an unacceptable direction. Labor has to take the lead on the employer-sponsored health care provisions — we can’t expect the health care advocates to lead on this.

  

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