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HHS Secretary Sebelius Interested in Employer Role in Health Reform

Posted by Rick Lord on Apr 13, 2010 4:19:00 PM

Employers played a pivotal role in the development of health care reform in Massachusetts and will play a similar role in determining the success of the new federal health reform. That was the message I delivered yesterday during an afternoon of meetings with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other federal officials.

I traveled to Washington at Secretary Sebelius' invitation to discuss the lessons federal officials might learn from the 2006 Massachusetts health care reform initiative. I was part of a group that included Jon Kingsdale, Executive Director of the Commonwealth Connector; Nancy Turnbull Senior Lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health; and Robert Restuccia, Executive Director of the group Community Catalyst.

Our group spent more than an hour discussing health reform with more than 50 senior Health and Human Services regulators who face the daunting challenge of making the health reform bill signed last month by President Obama a reality. We then met for 45 minutes with Secretary Sebelius, whom I had met last June when we discussed health reform issues during her trip to Boston.  It's no secret that Massachusetts holds a unique interest for Secretary Sebelius since the commonwealth served as a model for several important elements of the health care such as the individual mandate and insurance exchanges.

I spoke to the secretary and her staff at length about the decision by Massachusetts businesses in 2006 to work with government, health-care providers, insurers and consumer groups to develop a framework of shared responsibility to expand health insurance coverage. Many people forget that the effort headed off the loss of $385 million in federal Medicaid funds and a pending constitutional amendment that would have guaranteed access to unlimited health care.

The Massachusetts reform ultimately succeeded because employers understood the importance of the legislation and did the hard work of learning about fair share contributions, minimum creditable coverage and Section 125 plans. AIM took the lead on behalf of employers by providing four years of educational programs for thousands of companies, and by collaborating with state regulators to ensure that the rules of reform were fair to employers, health-care providers and consumers alike.

Secretary Sebelius appears determined to apply the notion of shared responsibility for health reform on a national level. She will need all the shared responsibility she can get as she begins the broadest overhaul of government policy since the New Deal.

And implementing the reform is just the beginning. We know here in Massachusetts that the second stage of the health care debate is controlling the runaway cost of health insurance for employers and consumers. AIM and Ms. Turnbull recently proposed a plan to provide relief to employers by temporarily limiting reimbursements to health care providers while officials implement payment reform.

The proposal has drawn positive comment from lawmakers and we look forward to continued debate.

Topics: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Health Care Reform, AIM, Health Insurance, Health Care

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