EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 30, 2013

On eve of visit, business group urges reconsideration of Mass. waiver

By Matt Murphy
State House News Service

---- — BOSTON - President Barack Obama will be in Boston today to cheerlead the national health reform law he based on the Massachusetts experience, but one business group that played a prominent role in the development of the state’s 2006 access law says some of the national reforms are threatening the state’s efforts.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts wrote a letter to the White House yesterday urging the Obama administration to reconsider Gov. Deval Patrick’s request for a waiver from new rules that will change the way insurance carriers calculate premiums for Massachusetts businesses.

Obama will be at Faneuil Hall this afternoon to trumpet the benefits for states around the country through the embattled Affordable Care Act. The White House has held Massachusetts out as an example for what can be achieved with the ACA, despite the early stumbles with the troubled rollout of the national online insurance purchasing website.

However, A.I.M. President Richard Lord said two “small provisions” of the federal law have the potential to drive up premiums for some small businesses by more than 50 percent. Instead of dovetailing with the efforts already underway in Massahusetts, Lord said, key provisions of the ACA “threaten to accelerate the already burdensome cost of health insurance.”

“Although we were pleased to be the model for rest of the country, the member employers of AIM respectfully urge you to reconsider Governor Patrick’s waiver request and allow our commonwealth to continue the laudable progress it has made to control health costs for employers and consumers. We would very much like the Affordable Care Act to live up to its name,” A.I.M. President Richard Lord said.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts participated in the development of the 2006 health care reform law in Massachusetts that brought employers, doctors, hospitals, insurers and political leaders to the table to address problems with access to affordable health care.

The law, signed by former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney and implemented by Democrat Gov. Deval Patrick, succeeded in reducing the percentage of uninsured from 8 percent to 2 percent, while the number of employers offering health coverage climbed from 70 percent in 2005 to 77 percent today.

Lawmakers last year passed a reform law aimed at addressing the still high cost of insurance by capping increases in total medical spending to the economic growth rate of 3.6 percent and encouraging new methods of payment for services.

“We’re left to wonder why Massachusetts stands to be penalized for having successfully figured out health reform during the past seven years,” Lord wrote.

The Patrick administration requested both verbally, and in writing at the urging the Legislature, a waiver from the regulations that would reduce the number of factors used to calculate insurance premiums from nine to four: age, family size, geographic area, and tobacco use. Both times the Obama administration said no, but Massachusetts was granted a three-year transitional waiver to phase in the changes.