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Keeping You Informed

March 2012 Business Brief

In This Issue

  1. Senator Talks of Health Care Bill by March
  2. House Republicans Form Coalition to Force Release Bills for Debate
  3. DeLeo Speaks Out on Jobs, Taxes, Health Care, Higher Ed
  4. Health Connector Offers More Choices for Small Businesses
  5. Governor Supports Massachusetts Businesses by Signing Bill to Freeze Unemployment Insurance Rate Increase
  6. Attorney General Martha Coakley Names Designee to Massachusetts Gaming Commission
  7. Massachusetts Division of Insurance Asked to Approve 19.3% Hike in Workers’ Compensation Insurance

Senator Talks of Health Care Bill by March

Senator Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge), co-chair of the Health Care Financing Committee, and his House counterpart Steven Walsh (D-Lynn) have their sights set at improving the Massachusetts health care system by incentivizing high quality health care and eliminating duplicative procedures. Senator Moore said he hopes to strike a deal with House
Chair Walsh before next month, but he said that in the absence of an agreement, the Senate would likely advance a bill on its own.

Governor Deval Patrick has made no secret that he wants lawmakers to send him a health care system reform bill quickly, but the Legislature has reviewed his bill for a year, warning that hasty action could destabilize an industry that ranks as Massachusetts’ top employer and processes tens of billions of dollars a year.

So far, the discussions have embraced a system that essentially puts groups of health care providers on a patient-by-patient budget and provide incentives for doctors and hospitals to work within that budget. Supporters of the so-called global payment system said it would emphasize healthy outcomes for patients and diminish the “fee-for-service” system in which providers are reimbursed for every service they provide, rather than keeping patients healthy, reducing errors and minimizing unnecessary hospitalizations. Proponents of the bill have suggested lawmakers must also tackle major disparities in the prices charged by providers around the state for similar services.

Moore said that uncertainty over the fate of national health reform, which could be decided by the 2012 presidential and Congressional elections, has had limited impact on efforts to craft a payment reform bill.

House Republicans Form Coalition to Force Release Bills for Debate

In an email circulated to all House members, House Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading) asked his colleagues in both parties to join an effort to exert greater influence over the House agenda in an effort he calls the Rule 28 Coalition – a reference to the House rule that allows a majority of House lawmakers to force bills to be discharged from several key committees for debate and floor votes.

While all 32 Republicans have already joined the coalition, Representative Charles Murphy (D-Burlington) is championing the coalition with the Democrats.  Representative Harriett Stanley (D-West Newbury) is the only other Democrat who has signed on the coalition thus far.

Under the little used Rule 28, a majority of House members may file a signed petition with the House clerk relieving the House Committee on Ways and Means, the House Committee on Bills in the Third Reading, and the House Committee on Rules, from further consideration of a legislative matter. According to a section of the rule, seven days following the filing of the petition, the clerk shall place the matter in the Orders of the Day for the next calendar day that the House is meeting.

Joining the coalition, which would be non-binding for any member, indicates a commitment to support any other members’ motion to discharge a bill from the House Ways and Means, Bills in Third Reading or Rules Committee. Members would be free to debate and vote for or against any legislation moved forward by the coalition, but agree to oppose any attempt to recommit the bill to a committee or to study the legislation further.

To succeed, the coalition would need 81 lawmakers to take the pledge, requiring support from at least 49 Democrats. Jones created a website called Rule28.com and urged members to sign on before a press conference to formally announce the initiative.

The site features social media links and encourages visitors to contact their representatives and encourage them to join.

DeLeo Speaks Out on Jobs, Taxes, Health Care, Higher Ed

During his annual address to the House, Speaker Robert DeLeo, who was not been shy about aggressively pushing to legalize gaming in Massachusetts, sought to assure his colleagues and critics that his focus on job creation extends beyond casinos.

DeLeo told House members that he would look to find opportunities in the Commonwealth to create a friendlier business climate. Recently, House Republicans have expressed frustration with the pace of House initiatives aimed at job creation, and have even created a coalition to move key legislation out of Committee. Minority Leader Representative Brad Jones expressed hope that the Speaker will be receptive to a jobs bill they plan to outline.

Speaker DeLeo also ruled out using any new taxes or fees to balance next year’s budget, an approach that could scuttle the cigarette tax hike and other targeted fee increases recommended by Governor Deval Patrick in his proposed 2013 fiscal budget.

Governor Patrick’s budget proposal for fiscal 2013 includes $260 million in new revenue from a 50-cent increase in the cigarette tax, the application of the sales tax to candy and soda, an expansion of the bottle bill and other revenue-generating proposals. Senate President Therese Murray has not issued a direct a denunciation of new taxes, but as a rule the Senate cannot initiate revenue proposals.

The other major section of his speech focused on high cost of health care and his belief that consensus can be reached this session to overhaul the payment system without jeopardizing access to the highest quality of care for patients.

Health Connector Offers More Choices for Small Businesses

The state’s eight leading health insurance carriers are now offering health plans to small businesses through the Massachusetts Health Connector’s Business Express program. Business Express is a solution for small businesses that enables an easy apples-to-apples comparison of plans and until recently, there had been limited carrier participation in the program since its original launch two years ago.

The eight carriers participating in the program are: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, BMC HealthNet Plan, CeltiCare Health Plan, Fallon Community Health Plan, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Health New England, Neighborhood Health Plan and Tufts Health Plan.

Business Express is available to small businesses with 50 or fewer employees.  All of the health plans have been awarded the Seal of Approval from the Massachusetts Health Connector, and there are no membership dues or monthly fees. Some small business owners may also qualify for a 15 percent rebate of the premium the owner contributes towards his or her employees’ coverage by participating in Wellness Track, a Health Connector program that promotes healthy lifestyles.

Small business owners may shop for Business Express atwww.MAhealthconnector.org. The application takes about 15 minutes and quotes are generated within seconds. Small business owners may also learn more and enroll by calling 1-888-813-9220 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Governor Supports Massachusetts Businesses by Signing Bill to Freeze Unemployment Insurance Rate Increase

In an effort to save the Commonwealth’s businesses an estimated $421 million, Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill $127.1 million spending bill for fiscal 2012 that included the Legislature’s effort to freeze the unemployment insurance rate increase.

Also included in the bill, Governor Patrick vetoed $700,000 for payment to cities and towns affected with Tropical Storm Irene last summer, noting that the administration already allocated funds for that effort. The bill also tweaks the state health insurance law that created limited and tiered networks to make sure children or cancer patients who are currently in an active course of treatment at specialty hospitals to continue to receive coverage even if their treatments or doctors fall outside their new insurance networks. The bill approved by the Legislature spoke more generally to patients with “chronic” conditions.

Patrick also proposed staying the implementation of those new insurance mandates for 45 days to allow the Division of Insurance to develop regulations for implementation.

Attorney General Martha Coakley Names Designee to Massachusetts Gaming Commission

Attorney General Martha Coakley named her designee to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission before the allotted deadline of March 21. Gayle Cameron, a former detective assigned to the Casino Gaming Bureau in New Jersey, will join Governor Patrick’s appointed Chairman of the Commission, Stephen Crosby.

Cameron held leadership roles during her 28 years with the New Jersey State Police, including lieutenant colonel and deputy superintendent of investigations, a post from which she oversaw numerous state police units including all casino gaming investigations.

Born in Cambridge and raised in Weymouth, Cameron has homes in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and in Plymouth, where she plans to establish permanent residency.  Since retiring in 2008, she has worked on public safety consulting in the United States and abroad.

Cameron joined the New Jersey State Police in 1980, worked as a road trooper for four years, and then was assigned to the gaming bureau during the first years of legalized gambling in that state.  She holds a bachelor’s degree from Bridgewater State College and a master’s degree from Seton Hall University.

Last November, Patrick signed a law authorizing three resort casinos and one slot machine facility in Massachusetts.  Three more commission members remain to be named, including an appointee from Treasurer Steven Grossman and two appointees jointly named by Patrick, Coakley and Grossman.

Massachusetts Division of Insurance Asked to Approve 19.3% Hike in Workers’ Compensation Insurance

Workers compensation insurance underwriters are asking the state to approve an average 19.3 percent rate increase, saying it reflects the “real costs” of providing the line of insurance to Massachusetts employers.  According to the Workers’ Compensation Rating and Inspection Bureau, the rate hike would be the first in more than ten years and rates would be 58 percent lower than in 1991 even if the rate increase is approved by state regulators.

In advocating for the rate increase, Bureau officials say the average cost of claims, which cover lost wages and medical care associated with workplace injuries, has risen steadily while the volume of claims has dropped and note that average wages have risen 27.5 percent since 2001, when the last rate hike was approved.  The Bureau said insurers need the increase to cover the rising costs of health care and wage replacement, driven by higher salaries and the longer leaves that claimants are taking.  If a premium cost $100 in 1991, the current rate would be $33.21. If the new rate request is approved, that premium would rise to $39.62, according to the Bureau.

The Massachusetts Division of Insurance, which isauthorized to establish rate, monitor the solvency of insurers and approve the terms of workers compensation policies, will hold hearings on the proposal in late March.  In fiscal 2011, three insurance carriers gave up their licenses to write workers compensation policies in Massachusetts while state regulators approved ten new licenses for workers compensation carriers and five existing licenses were amended to include workers compensation.

Massachusetts once had some of the highest worker compensation costs in the country, but following reforms in 1991, those costs have declined steadily, falling by two-thirds over the past 20 years.

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