Massachusetts Waives Coverage Requirement for 20% of Uninsured
The Massachusetts Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector on Thursday unanimously approved a proposal to exempt almost 20% of uninsured residents from a state law enacted last year that requires all residents to obtain health insurance, the Boston Globe reports (Dembner, Boston Globe, 4/13).
Under the law, state residents who do not obtain health insurance could face fines or tax penalties.
However, the law requires that the state exempt residents who cannot afford health insurance, with the definition of affordability left to the Connector. The proposal that the Connector approved will exempt from the law about 60,000 low- and moderate-income residents who do not qualify for state subsidies, or about 1% of the population (Dembner, Boston Globe, 4/12).
Under the proposal, single individuals with annual incomes less than $40,001 would have to pay no more than 9% of their incomes, or about $300 monthly, to obtain health insurance, and those with annual incomes less than $25,000 would have to pay no more than 3.3% of their incomes, or $70 monthly (Belluck, New York Times, 4/12).
In addition, the proposal would expand state subsidies to 52,000 of the lowest-income individuals and families that qualify for Commonwealth Care, the health insurance program sponsored by the state (Boston Globe, 4/12). The proposal would extend health insurance at no cost to individuals with annual incomes less than $15,315 and families of four with annual incomes less than $30,630.
Individuals with annual incomes between $30,630 and $50,001 would not qualify for state subsidies, but the proposal would exempt them from fines and tax penalties, provided that they could not obtain health insurance for less than $150 to $300 monthly (New York Times, 4/12). The proposal also would reduce the cost of health insurance by an additional $5 monthly for individuals with annual incomes between $15,000 and $20,000 who qualify for Commonwealth Care.
The expanded state subsidies would increase the estimated cost of the law for the fiscal year from $470 million to about $483 million.
Massachusetts officials said that the state would use funds previously used to pay for charity care provided by hospitals to cover part of the increased cost (Boston Globe, 4/12).
Leslie Kirwan, chair of the Connector, said, "Our vote ... sets the stage for covering virtually everyone with insurance that meets the highest standards in the nation" (Boston Globe, 4/13).
Rev. Hurmon Hamilton, pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church and president of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, called the passage of the proposal "a tremendous victory," adding, "It casts the widest possible net across those who are uninsured, while protecting the most vulnerable."
Len Nichols, an economist with the New America Foundation, said, "What the Massachusetts decision will do is put down a market that other advocates will use to say that costs can't be more than 10%" (Appleby, USA Today, 4/13).
In related news, the Washington Post on Friday examined how former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who enacted the state health insurance law last year, has not discussed the legislation as he "aggressively courts conservatives in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination."
In his major speeches, Romney often does not discuss the law or criticizes provisions added to the legislation that he opposed. His "current lack of emphasis has surprised some of the people who worked on the legislation, who say it was not only Romney's most significant accomplishment as governor but a major public policy triumph," according to the Post.
Romney aides deny that he has avoided discussion of the law (Bacon, Washington Post, 4/13).