Massachusetts health care reform

Massachusetts health care reform

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed a health care reform law in 2006 with the aim of providing health insurance to nearly all of its residents. The law mandated that nearly every resident of Massachusetts obtain a minimum level of insurance coverage, provided free health care insurance for residents earning less than 150% of the federal poverty level (FPL) and mandated employers with more than 10 "full-time" employees to provide healthcare insurance. The law was amended significantly in 2008 and twice in 2010 to make it consistent with the federal Affordable Care Act. Major revisions related to health care industry price controls were passed in August 2012, and the employer mandate was repealed in 2013 in favor of the federal mandate (even though enforcement of the federal mandate was delayed until January 2015). Because Mitt Romney was the governor of Massachusetts at the time, the law has colloquially been called Romneycare, a reference to the nicknaming of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as "Obamacare".
Among its many effects, the law established an independent public authority, the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, also known as the Massachusetts Health Connector. The Connector acts as an insurance broker to offer free, highly subsidized and full-price private insurance plans to residents, including through its web site. As such it is one of the models of the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges. The 2006 Massachusetts law successfully covered approximately two-thirds of the state's then-uninsured residents, half via federal-government-paid-for Medicaid expansion (administered by MassHealth) and half via the Connector's free and subsidized network-tiered health care insurance for those not eligible for expanded Medicaid. Relatively few Massachusetts residents used the Connector to buy full-priced insurance.
The enacted statute, Chapter 58 of the Acts of 2006, established a system to require individuals, with a few exceptions, to obtain health insurance.
Chapter 58 had several key provisions: the creation of the Health Connector; the establishment of the subsidized Commonwealth Care Health Insurance Program; the employer Fair Share Contribution and Free Rider Surcharge; and a requirement that each individual must show evidence of coverage on their income tax return or face a tax penalty, unless coverage was deemed unaffordable by the Health Connector.
The statute expanded MassHealth (Medicaid and SCHIP) coverage for children of low income parents and restores MassHealth benefits like dental care and eyeglasses. The legislation included a merger of the individual (non-group) insurance market into the small group market to allow individuals to get lower group insurance rates. The process of merging the two markets also froze the market for such insurance for a short period in April•May 2010 as the current government tried to keep the leading non-profit insurers, which insure over 90% of the residents, in the state from raising premiums for small businesses and individuals. Eventually the state's non-partisan insurance board ruled that the government did not have the actuarial data or right to freeze the premiums. Five of the non-profit insurers then settled for slightly lower premium increases than they had initially requested rather than litigate further. The sixth litigated and won the right to implement all its original increases retroactively. Payment rates were supposed to be increased to hospitals and physicians under the statute but that has not happened. The statute also formed a Health Care Quality and Cost Council to issue quality standards and publicize provider performance.

 



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