Health Care Ruling Could Be Costly For Massachusetts | WAMC

Health Care Ruling Could Be Costly For Massachusetts

Dec 19, 2018

  

Massachusetts Health Connector Executive Director Louis Gutierrez celebrated with Gov. Charlie Baker a large increase in health insurance enrollment in 2017.
Credit Governor's press office

          Even though Massachusetts has its own universal health care law, the state could be severely affected by a federal judge’s finding that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

   Through the federal health care law Massachusetts gets billions of dollars to insure low-income people.  The state’s Medicaid program, known as MassHealth, accounts for about 40 percent of the state’s budget.

    With so much at stake, it is no surprise that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey joined in an appeal of the trial judge’s decision in the Texas lawsuit.  The case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

   Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, speaking with reporters in Springfield earlier this week, said he is cautiously optimistic that the federal health care law will be upheld.

   "For us here in Massachusetts it is a billion dollars in federal revenue that supports our ability to insure 97 percent of our population," said Baker.

    Baker, a Republican, has opposed the efforts led by Republicans in Washington to repeal or weaken what came to be known as Obamacare.

  " I've fought really hard for the last few years along with mayors and governors and Senators and Congresspeople to preserve what works really well here in Massachusetts," said Baker.

   The federal law was modeled after the Massachusetts health care law that was passed in 2006 by a Democratic legislature and signed by then-Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican.  It mandates that all residents have health insurance.

   In striking down the federal law, Judge Reed O’Connor said the mandate for individuals to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.

   But his ruling has no immediate impact on the coverage requirements in Massachusetts, according to Jason Lefferts, spokesman for the Massachusetts Health Connector.

" I think it is pretty clear that the law stays in place and we are still open for business," said Lefferts.

  Congress voted to do away with the federal tax penalty for not buying health insurance, but a person in Massachusetts who is not covered could pay a state income tax penalty.

  People in Massachusetts have until December 23 to buy health insurance coverage for 2019 through the Health Connector and until January 23, 2019 when open enrollment closes and the opportunity to make changes in coverage ends.

    " So far, it has been a very smooth open enrollment for us,"  Lefferts said.

  During the current open enrollment period so far, more than 260,000 people have enrolled in plans offered by the Health Connector, which is about 10 percent higher than last year at this time.

  " New enrollments are up a little bit at about 28,000 which is up about a third," said Lefferts. "We are having great retention with about 92 percent of our current members re-enrolling in coverage."

Lefferts said the Baker-Polito administration is proud of the state’s progress in health care to ensure near-universal coverage for everyone in the state.