Massachusetts House Overrides Vetoes to Health Care Bill
The Massachusetts House on Tuesday voted "overwhelmingly" to override Gov. Mitt Romney's (R) vetoes to legislation that aims to expand health care coverage to nearly all of the state's uninsured residents, the AP/Boston Globe reports (LeBlanc, AP/Boston Globe, 4/25). The legislation, which was approved by the state Legislature on April 4, would require all residents to purchase health insurance by July 1, 2007, and would create a low-cost, state-subsidized health insurance program for residents with incomes up to 300% of the federal poverty level.
Romney on April 12 signed the bill into law but vetoed several provisions, including one calling for employers with 11 or more workers to provide health coverage or pay an annual fee of $295 per worker. Romney also vetoed:
- A section that would extend dental and vision benefits to adult Medicaid beneficiaries and give beneficiaries who meet certain wellness goals discounts on premiums and copayments;
- A provision that would create a larger, revamped Public Health Council;
- A section that allows "special status aliens," including documented immigrants who have been in the U.S. fewer than five years or those who do not have permanent status, to receive Medicaid benefits regardless of the income of their sponsor;
- A provision that would require a member of the Massachusetts House and Senate to participate in negotiations with the federal government regarding special Medicaid funding; and
- A provision prohibiting the Romney administration from changing the financing, regulation of or operation of mental health benefits for Medicaid beneficiaries without first submitting its reasoning to the state Legislature (California Healthline, 4/13).
State House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi (D) said, "An overwhelming majority of House members have gone on record in support of the principle of shared responsibility in order to achieve universal coverage here in Massachusetts."
Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's communications director, said, "Those differences with the Legislature are not essential to the goal of getting everyone covered with insurance."
State Senate President Robert Travaglini (D) said the Senate likely will override all of Romney's vetoes as well (AP/Boston Globe, 4/25).
Romney in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday discussed the new law and said critics likely will support the plan once they have studied it more carefully. Romney said, "They key factor that some of my libertarian friends forget is that today, everybody who doesn't have insurance is getting free coverage from government. And the question is, do we want people to pay what they can afford, or do we want people to be able to ride free on everybody else. And when that's recognized as the choice, most conservatives come my way."
Romney added, "Most impressions at this point are inaccurate or partially baked" (Wirzbicki, Boston Globe, 4/26). He also sought to address concerns about the cost of insuring low-income state residents, saying that the plan will redirect the $1.3 million Massachusetts already spends on caring for uninsured patients to subsidizing health insurance premiums for that population.
Romney noted, however, that that some states have not set aside funds for caring for the uninsured and thus might not have the funding in their budgets to implement Massachusetts' plan (Schuler, CQ HealthBeat, 4/25). He said the plan is an "experiment the other 49 states can look at, (with) elements they can adopt" (Boston Globe, 4/26).