Experts Discuss Massachusetts Health Reform Law

September 24, 2012

Health reform experts gathered at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business on September 10 to discuss the role of local businesses in crafting the Massachusetts health reform law six years ago.

The panel discussion, titled The Impact of Health Reform on Business in Massachusetts: Lessons from Six Years of Experience, was moderated by the dean of the business school, David Thomas, and was co-sponsored by Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Massachusetts business leaders and national health reform experts expressed that the 2006 law - commonly known as Chapter 58 - can be an achievable goal for other states, but stressed the importance of employer inclusiveness during the process.

“The results [of the health care law] have been dramatic,” said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. He added that “the impact of the state budget has been modeled” across the country.

The panelists also felt that the current state of the nation’s health care reform laws and the subsequent divisiveness among lawmakers has caused confusion among public consumers of health insurance and employers who offer it. They believe the Massachusetts model proves that businesses should have a seat at the negotiating table so employers can offer, and employees can receive, affordable health care.

Chapter 58

In the 1980s, Rick Lord was involved in drafting the state’s health care law. The president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts said that law was repealed due to the exclusion of business leaders and employers.

“Businesses did not understand the law [and] they were skeptical of the process,” said Mary Ella Payne, vice president of system legislative leadership for Ascension Health. She has arranged meetings between Massachusetts business leaders and their congressional representatives.

Lord explained that ultimately there was a lot of confusion voiced by business leaders.

“They weren’t getting their information from health care leaders,” he said.

Chapter 58 was passed in April 2006 and since has been amended three times. It calls for comprehensive health coverage for the majority of employees and for more people to be covered under Medicaid.

In addition, it requires employers with 11 or more full-time employees to make a “fair and reasonable” contribution to an employee’s health coverage. The law further established the Health Connector, a state agency responsible for administering the law, including assisting individuals and employers to find affordable health coverage and advising insurance companies.

As a result, Massachusetts has the lowest rate of uninsured individuals in the nation, with 1.9 percent compared to a 15.5 percent national average, according to a 2010 Massachusetts Health Insurance Survey.

Threats to Employment?

Critics have expressed concern that the plan has imposed increased costs on individuals who could not otherwise afford health insurance, as well as the potential for backlash on employment and state budgets.

Economist Linda Blumberg of The Urban Institute stated that “there is no evidence that the Massachusetts law had any negative effects on employment.” She added, “You can’t make small changes and expect a big impact on the economy as a whole.”

Building Upon an Employer-Based System

Businessman Jack Connors of the marketing firm Hill, Connors, Cosmopulos, Inc., firmly believes in the role of employers in establishing any health care legislation.

“Business owners banded together to accomplish a goal. The cost of health care was growing for employers and they felt they had no control over it,” he said.

Though the process was difficult and took years of negotiating, eventually all parties reached a compromise.

“In 2006 it was all about access,” Lord said. “We’ve made great strides in the last couple of years and we’re all still committed.”

-- Tricia McCarter-Joseph