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"New Standards for Businesses are Right Idea for Shared Responsibility" by Celia Wcislo

Business leaders have recently expressed frustration and anger at the proposed changes by the Division of Healthcare Finance and Policy (DHCFP) on the Fair Share requirements under Massachusetts healthcare reform.

Previously, the regulation in place said that to avoid a penalty, employers must offer to pay 33% of the premium or 25% of full-time employees must buy the insurance their employer offers. That meant employers could avoid responsibility and the penalty, even if employees pay up to 67% of the premiums, or if their workforce is mostly part-time.

Employers meeting either of these two tests faced no penalty under the law. This arrangement was negotiated between business representatives and the Romney administration, with the understanding that many employers would not have to pay the penalty.

Everyone is being asked to pay more for the cost of successfully insuring more than 170,000 Massachusetts residents. If you buy cigarettes, you will pay $1 more per pack in state taxes. If you are on CommCare, you could pay 10% higher in premiums, and higher co-pays for doctor visits. Providers will pay $20M more to cover health costs, and insurers will pay $33M more.

Consumers and advocates have consistently asked that everyone share in the cost of reform.

The Patrick Administration has listened to and honored that request. Reform has worked so far because all of us, including businesses, have come to the table to make it work.

Having listened carefully to all sides, DHCFP is releasing new, final regulations today. The new DHCFP rules are aimed at those businesses who have failed to insure their workforce and have chosen to pay almost nothing towards the reform by requiring they meet both the 33% premium payment, and the 25% enrollment standards, with some important exceptions..

First, the new changes recognize the difficulties that small businesses are facing. The amended regulations apply only to those firms with over 50 full-time employees, rather than the initial standard, which applied them to any business with over 11 full time equivalent (FTE) workers. This means smaller businesses will not be impacted by the regulatory changes.

Secondly, any employer that has 75% of their full-time employees buying insurance, will also be allowed to live by the current rules. This changes acknowledges that these businesses are already doing their fair share.

Finally, DHCFP has postponed the start date of this regulation from October 1, until January 1, saving businesses three months of penalties, and allowing time for larger employers to adjust to the new regulations.

The new regulations are both responsive and fair. They correctly target those larger employers who have chosen not to insure their employees, while ensuring that shared responsibility remains the bedrock of Massachusetts health care reform.

Celia Wcislo
Assistant Division Director, 1199 SEIU
Connector board member

This program aired on October 1, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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