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CONTINUE TO CARE: A VALENTINE'S DAY AFFIRMATION by Hurmon Hamilton

“Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”
Psalm 85:10 (King James Version)

On February 14, 2008 – Valentine’s Day, the Commonwealth Connector Board will meet to amend the 2008 Affordability Schedule. On the day many people pause to remember promises and re-affirm commitments – the Connector Board members will be presented with an opportunity to remember and re-affirm the promise made last year: the state will not penalize individuals and families in the Commonwealth who cannot afford to purchase the health care – how appropriate.

Weighing in the balance of the Connector’s Valentine’s Day decisions will be families struggling to survive amid record foreclosures, plummeting house values, expanding personal debt and growing unemployment. It is vital that the Connector not add to the misery index of these families by assigning financial penalties because these same families cannot find affordable health care. No, hopefully, in the words of the Psalmist, “Mercy and Truth” will both have a seat at the Connector Board meeting on Valentine’s Day.

Truth demands that we understand the necessity for an affordability schedule which holds individuals responsible for ensuring their own health – and we do. Mercy, however, urges that the Schedule shifts, slightly, only to accommodate the 2008 change in the federal poverty level.

Truth and Mercy together will recognize that a dramatic shift in the Schedule due to the prices insurance companies want to charge, as opposed to what is truly affordable to individuals and families, would be a major set-back in health care reform. Such a decision would signal that business profit and market greed are free to drive public policy. I am convinced that if Truth and Mercy are both present at the Connector’s table on Valentine’s Day, the members will ultimately conclude that the definition of affordability must never be based on a pricing structure set by actuaries whose goal is to examine risk and cost. Rather, the Schedule must be based on the real lives of individuals struggling to provide for themselves and their families.

GBIO believes a just proposal would be one where, while the Schedule would shift modestly to account for the change in the FPL, the percentage of income individuals are expected to spend on health insurance premiums would remain constant. It would be unacceptable to directly tie the Affordability Schedule to Commonwealth Care premiums, particularly if the premiums rise disproportionately to the increase in the FPL.

We are also mindful of the needs of two segments of our Commonwealth family that the state was unable to take into account in last year’s Affordability Schedule:

1) individuals and families, predominantly older adults, who are currently required to spend over 10% of their income on premiums or face unreasonable penalties by the state; and
2) individuals and families making between 500-600% FPL who are not offered affordable health care through their employers.

We strongly believe that on this Valentine’s Day, the Connector should tell these families that the state does care about them and will show it by not penalizing them because they are not offered affordable health care. To accomplish this, the Connector need only to set a cap on the Schedule at 10% of income – no family should be penalized if the only health insurance premiums offered to them cost over 10% of their income. Likewise, we believe the Affordability Schedule should not stop at 500%; but rather, an additional category of Affordability should be established for those earning between 500-600% FPL.

Most importantly, we believe setting the 2008 Affordability Schedule should be a continuation of the process used to craft the health reform legislation and, in particular, to create the 2007 Affordability Schedule – a process that values the real life stories of the families of the Commonwealth as much as spreadsheets and budget outlooks. Such a process requires that both truth and mercy always be represented at the Connector table of decision, and most especially on this Valentine’s Day!

This reality will reaffirm to the many that are vulnerable throughout the Commonwealth that their voices are heard and their lives are valued. And some will be able to say of the Connector Board and its Affordability policies - “righteousness and peace have kissed each other”. What a beautiful report – on such a special day!

Rev. Hurmon E. Hamilton, Jr
Senior Pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church USA
Chairman and CEO of Roxbury Presbyterian Church Social Impact Center, Inc.
President of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

This program aired on January 31, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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