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Attorney General: Massachusetts Well-Positioned on Health and Energy

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Nov 17, 2016 11:35:50 AM

The approach that Massachusetts takes to key employer issues such as health care and energy will depend heavily on decisions that will be made during the next several months by the Trump Administration, Attorney General Maura Healey said this morning.


The good news, Healey told several hundred business leaders at the AIM Executive Forum, is that Massachusetts is prepared for such uncertainty because of the collaborative policy work that has been done by several governors, the legislature, the attorney general’s office and the private sector.

She pointed to the fact that Massachusetts has its own health-care reform law that will remain even if President Trump and Congress change some or all of the Affordable Care Act. She also noted that the Legislature passed a wide-ranging energy bill earlier this year to diversify the commonwealth’s energy supply.

“I would love to have the Massachusetts way to be the American way,” Healey said.

The attorney general opened her remarks with several observations on the presidential election and her decision to establish a hotline for people to report incidents of bias or harassment. She reported that more than 200 people from all sides of the political spectrum have called the hotline in the past two days.

“It sends a message that we know the difference between right and wrong,” Healey said.

She acknowledged that the degree to which the Trump Administration changes Medicaid funding levels - and potentially shifts that funding to block grants - will have a significant effect on the Massachusetts health-care system. The attorney general’s office has issues multiple reports looking at rising health-care costs in Massachusetts and methods to improve the market.

“Regardless of federal changes, the legal framework Massachusetts put in place under Governor Romney, that served as the model for the ACA, remains. So, in key ways, I believe we are strongly positioned to keep our health care systems running smoothly. But we need everyone at the table and working together.

“While we get ready to respond to changes at the federal level, we will continue to work on our affordability agenda here at the state level. And there’s plenty to do on this front.”

Energy policy will also depend on the direction of a president who campaigned on the need to exploit coal and other traditional fuels to control the cost of electricity. Healey said the new Massachusetts energy law commits the commonwealth to diversifying its energy portfolio through a competitive market.

“I believe diversification of our energy sources is critical,” she said.

“The role for my office is to make sure that we have a competitive, transparent process that results in cost-effective contracts and minimize customer risk.”

Healey said the trend of collaboration between employers and her office continued earlier this year with passage of the nation’s first pay-equity law. AIM worked with Healey and legislative leaders on a compromise bill that ensures fair compensation for all workers while allowing employers to attract and retain skilled employees.

Topics: Health Care Reform, Energy, Maura Healey, Attorney General Maura Healey

Attorney General Cites Dysfunctional Health-Care Market

Posted by Katie Holahan on Sep 21, 2015 9:25:00 AM

A continued migration of patients to high-priced doctors and hospitals means that Massachusetts is unlikely to meet its benchmark for health-care cost increases in 2015, according to a new report by Attorney General Maura Healey.

AG.Maura.HealeyThe report finds that widely disparate prices paid to medical providers – differences unexplained by provider quality – have created a market in which patients continue to utilize higher cost providers, driving up health care costs.  The effects of the market dysfunction, coupled with anticipated growth in pharmacy costs and utilization of health care services, raise serious concerns about the commonwealth's ability to meet the 3.6 percent benchmark for increases in health costs.

“Not enough has changed and it certainly has not changed fast enough,” Healey said Friday during a meeting with the Associated Industries of Massachusetts Board of Directors.

“We need to do more. We have to act now.”

The report finds that the most highly-paid doctors and hospitals continue to grow market share, further increasing costs. And global payments, while having positive effects, have tended to lock in historic payment differentials, thus sustaining disparities in the resources available to different providers to carry out their mission.

The report recommends encouraging innovation in the health-care industry and strengthening and expanding consumer incentives - initiatives that will necessarily involve employers.

The report points to the importance of simplifying the cost and quality information provided to employers when they are choosing coverage, especially across providers. Clear information should also be provided to employees during enrollment and when they are choosing their primary care group.

On the "supply side" – doctors, hospitals and insurers -  the attorney general’s report suggests implementing incentives and penalties evenly by giving efficient providers more room to grow (under the benchmark) than less efficient providers. The report also points to different ways of monitoring and understanding disparities in health care resources, whether that be directly regulating variation in provider prices or tracking income/health adjusted status by zip code.

“This latest in a series of reports on health-care by the Massachusetts attorney general raises concerns about rising costs for employers who provide health insurance to workers,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts and a member of the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission.

“The data and graphs in the report have real consequences for real employers and real workers. The cost of health insurance remains a central issue for the Massachusetts economy.”

The report found that enrollment in tiered insurance products has increased, but the presence of these products has not resulted in an overall shift in patient volume away from higher priced providers. Current approaches appear hampered by inconsistent incentives for consumers to obtain care at higher value providers.

The Health Policy Commission will conduct its annual hearing on health-care costs in Massachusetts October 5 and 6.

 

Topics: Health Care Costs, Health Insurance, Attorney General Maura Healey

State Issues Final Sick-Time Regulations

Posted by Brad MacDougall on Jun 22, 2015 7:21:06 AM

Attorney General Maura Healey on Friday issued final regulations for the state’s earned sick-time law, rules that clarify major employer concerns from the ability to use existing paid-time off benefits to preventing abuse.

health_careThe regulations outline conditions that will allow some companies to comply with the law through their existing time-off plans, as long as those plans provide employees with as much or more sick time as the law, and observe prohibitions on retaliation and interference.

The rules also assert that earned sick-time runs concurrently with certain other federal and state leave laws and that an employee who leaves for longer than four months and hasn’t accrued at least 10 hours of sick time will not be able to carry over any hours when he or she returns.

Employers now have nine days to digest the regulations before the earned sick time law takes effect on July 1.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which filed 19 pages of comments to the regulations based on thousands of questions posed by member employers, commended the attorney general for responding to business concerns under a tight timeline.

“The attorney general really was listening to the legitimate concerns of businesspeople who want to comply with this new law. We give her high marks for this,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer.

“AIM has worked with employers throughout the regulation and process and is now prepared to help those employers understand the regulations and comply with them.”

AIM will conduct a series of seminars throughout the commonwealth during July that will review specifics of the regulations and look at a model policy and sample documents.

Among the issues of interest to employers in the final regulations:

  • An employer may require documentation for absence that exceeds three consecutive days; that occurs within two weeks of leaving a position; after four unforeseeable absences in a three- month period; or after three unforeseeable absences in a three-month period for employees 17 or under.
  • Employees using earned sick time are compensated at their regular rate of pay, plus any shift differential. Overtime and contributions to health insurance or other benefits are excluded.
  • Employees with multiple rates of pay may be compensated for earned sick time either at the rate that would have applied on the date of absence or at a blended rate calculated on the prior pay period, month, quarter or other period of time.
  • Piecework employees accrue sick time through a reasonable projection of hours worked based on established practices or billing.
  • Earned sick time may not be used as an excuse for being late without an authorized purpose.
  • An employee may not accept a shift assignment with the intention of calling out sick for all or part of the shift.
  • The employer may discipline employees for clear pattern of using earned sick time before or after weekends or holidays.
  • The minimum increment of time for using earned sick time is one hour, though employers may use fractions of an hour for time more than an hour if their payroll system can track such fractions.
  • Employers that provide 40 hours of paid time off in a lump sum at the start of the year do not have to track accruals or allow the carryover of earned sick time from year to year, provided the use of the time is consistent with earned sick time.
  • Employers may opt to delay accruals of earned sick time for employees with a bank of 40 hours until the bank is reduced below 40 hours.
  • Employers that choose to offer time off through a paid time-off or vacation policy that complies with the earned sick time law do not have to track and keep a separate record of earned sick time use.
  • Employers using existing paid time-off policies must ensure that all used time enjoys the same job protection. The employer may have different policies for different groups of employees as long as all employees accrue and use same amount of time under same conditions.

Employers must also determine during the next several days whether they wish to seek the “safe harbor” that will provide them a six-month transition period for complying with the earned sick time law. Companies seeking the safe harbor are required to extend the leave or paid time off to all employees, both full and part-time.

Register for an AIM Earned Sick-Time Seminar

 

 

 

 

 

Topics: Paid Sick Days, Mandated Paid Sick Days, Attorney General Maura Healey

AG Updates Safe-Harbor Rules for Sick-Time Law

Posted by Brad MacDougall on Jun 10, 2015 11:17:37 AM

Attorney General Maura Healey today issued updated rules for companies seeking to qualify for the “safe harbor” provision of the new state Earned Sick-Time law by extending paid time off to part-time employees.

SneezeHealey announced on May 17 a six-month transition period for companies with existing paid time-off plans to comply with the new sick-time law, which is scheduled to take effect on July 1. Companies seeking the safe harbor were required to extend the leave or paid time off to all employees, both full-time and part-time, but employers questioned whether part-timers would qualify for the full 30 hours of leave.

The update issued by the attorney general today allows employers to extend earned sick time proportionally to part-time employees and to employees hired after July 1.

Healey also issued the Earned Sick Time notice that employers will be required to post in the workplace. The notice contains several important elements, including the fact that the smallest increment of sick time that employees may take is one hour and that sick time “cannot be used as an excuse to be late for work without advance notice of a proper use.”

“The attorney general’s office has, once again, showed a willingness to listen to the comments of employers who wish to comply in good faith with the Earned Sick-Time law. These updates provide clarity as employers work to align their existing paid time-off plans with the new regulations,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM.

The safe harbor transition allows any employer with a paid time-off policy in existence as of May 1 that provides to employees the right to use at least 30 hours of paid time off during the calendar year 2015 to be in compliance with the law from July 1 through January 1, 2016. The time off must be job protected.

The provision is intended to address concerns among employers that they will not be able to adjust their payroll systems during the short period between the issuance of final regulations later this month and the July 1 effective date of the law approved by Massachusetts voters.

The updated regulations address the issue of part-time and new employees as follows:

“On and after July 1, 2015, all employees not previously covered by the policy, including part-time employees, new employees, and per diem employees must either accrue paid time off at the same rate of accrual as covered full-time employees; or if the policy provides lump sum allocations, receive a prorated lump sum allocation based on the provision of lump sum paid time off/sick leave to covered full-time employees.

“Such lump sum allocations may:

  • where lump sums of paid time off are provided annually, be halved for employees who receive coverage as of July 1, 2015, and proportionately reduced for employees hired after July 1, 2015; and/or 
  • be proportionate for part-time employees.

The update and poster are available for download on the attorney general’s Earned Sick Time Web site: www.mass.gov/ago/earnedsicktime.

AIM urges employers to read the full text of the safe harbor update and to make comments to elected officials using the AIMVoice button, below. Today is the final day of the Notice and Comment period on the Earned Sick-Time Regulations.

 Take Action  Contact Elected Officials

Topics: Paid Sick Days, Mandated Paid Sick Days, Attorney General Maura Healey

AIM Submits Comments on Sick-Time Regulations

Posted by Brad MacDougall on Jun 8, 2015 9:30:00 AM

Associated Industries of Massachusetts filed 19 pages of comments to the proposed Earned Sick Time regulations Saturday as Attorney General Maura Healey and the business community continued to discuss a clarification of the “safe harbor” provision for companies that wish to extend existing paid time-off programs to part-time workers.

AG.Maura.HealeyHealey announced on May 17 a six-month transition period for companies with existing paid time-off plans to comply with the new sick-time law, which is scheduled to take effect on July 1. The safe harbor transition allowed any employer with a paid time-off policy in existence as of May 1 that provides to employees the right to use at least 30 hours of paid time off during the calendar year 2015 to be in compliance with the law from July 1 through January 1, 2016.

Companies seeking the safe harbor were required to extend the leave or paid time off to all employees, both full-time and part-time, but employers have questioned whether part-timers would qualify for the full 30 hours of leave.

AIM has proposed that companies qualify for the six-month transition by extending leave proportionally to part-time employees. So if full-timers qualify for 30 hours of leave, half-time employees would earn 15 hours. Discussions are ongoing, but no final agreement had been reached as of the week-end.

AIM’s formal comments seek to clarify the regulations employers will have to follow under the new law and head off an expected onslaught of lawsuits growing out of inconsistencies in the rules.

“While the safe harbor provision does provide relief, it does not prevent creative attorneys from filing lawsuits.  We are concerned that after July 1 many businesses will be subjected to lawsuits from aggressive plaintiffs’ attorneys seeking to leverage the commonwealth’s treble damages statute that provides for attorney’s fees under the law,” the comments state.

“AIM believes that like the state’s healthcare and data security laws, the earned sick time law will take time, effort and money to implement properly and responsibly.”

AIM maintains in its comments that many of the proposed earned sick-time regulations are not supported by the statute. 

Specific recommendations include:

  • Change the one-year break-in-service provision to four months to align with federal health care reform.
  • Require employees to explicitly tell employers whether the time off they seek is earned sick time.
  • Allow employers to discipline employees who fail to comply with reasonable documentation requirements.
  • Allow employers to terminate workers who have engaged in fraud and abuse of the earned sick-time law.
  • Count only hours worked in Massachusetts toward the accrual of earned sick time.

AIM’s comments were distilled from thousands of responses and questions posed by employers across Massachusetts. More than 700 companies participated in a recent AIM Webinar explaining the proposed regulations.

Attorney General Healey is expected to issue final regulations later this month.

Take Action  Contact Elected Officials

 

VoterVoice Call to Action: https://www.votervoice.net/AIM/campaigns/40134/respond

Topics: Paid Sick Days, Mandated Paid Sick Days, Attorney General Maura Healey

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