Massachusetts Political Leaders See Health Costs as Key Challenge

Posted by John Regan on Jan 6, 2011 3:09:00 PM

The commonwealth’s three top political leaders appear to agree that controlling the cost of health care and helping employers create jobs must be the primary objective of state government during the next two years.

state house Governor Deval Patrick used his second inaugural address today to announce that his administration plans to file legislation to reform and simplify the way businesses and individuals pay for health insurance.  He also promised a medical malpractice measure and said he has instructed MassHealth, the Commonwealth Health Care Connector and the Group Insurance Commission to implement pilot programs to demonstrate new and cost-effective ways to buy health care.

His comments came a day after House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray both identified business growth and health care as priorities for the 2011-2012 legislative session.

The governor called for Massachusetts to face difficult decisions on economic development, spiraling health insurance premiums and other complex issues.

''We must demand more of ourselves than rhetoric that divides us and leadership that kicks every tough decision down the road," Patrick said, echoing a theme he used during his successful re-election campaign.

The prominence of health care and business issues in the opening speeches of the governor, DeLeo and Murray bodes well for Massachusetts employers who continue to face annual premium increases of up to 40 percent as they provide health coverage to workers.  AIM suggested Monday in its Common Wealth 2011 statement that the Massachusetts health-care system will collapse of its own weight if the companies that foot the bill for insurance are no longer able to pay.

Health care, tax, electricity and employment-law issues also dominate AIM’s 2011-2012 Legislative Agenda.

Murray said in a speech Wednesday that lawmakers would push hard to improve a state economy that already maintains an unemployment rate more than a full point below the national jobless level.

“We can and must do more to retain and grow our existing businesses as well as attract new investors, industry and jobs from across the world,” she said, noting that Massachusetts accounted for 9.4 percent of the nation’s job growth over the past year, despite constituting just 2.4 percent of the population.

DeLeo highlighted the health insurance crisis facing cities and towns, some of whom have been forced to borrow money to pay their medical bills. He proposed forcing municipalities to join the Group Insurance Commission, which purchases health coverage for tens of thousands of state employees and retirees.

“The reality is that municipal employee health insurance is a budget-buster which puts untenable strain on municipal services.Unless cities and towns can find health insurance at the same or lower cost than the GIC, we should force them to join - bringing them under the more efficient and cost effective state system,” he said. “This will translate into immediate cost savings for cities and towns while preserving an acceptable standard of quality health care for our public servants at the local level.”

Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM, said health insurance costs discourage employers from hiring people desperate for jobs.

“Massachusetts became a model for the nation in 2006 when it undertook a bipartisan health reform that has since extended coverage to 400,000 people who did not have coverage previously. It’s now time for Massachusetts to establish a model for making world-class health care affordable for employers and consumers alike,” Lord said.

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, AIM, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray

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