Bay State Lawmakers Thrash Out Health Care Bill Differences

November 11, 2005 ( - With lawmakers in the Massachusetts state House and Senate trying to work out differences between their competing versions of a health care plan for the Bay State's uninsured residents, the Senate on Thursday passed out its plan.

The Senate version, which covers about half the state’s roughly 500,000 uninsured residents over the next two years, does not include a requirement that individuals purchase coverage, a strategy that House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and Governor Mitt Romney have backed.  It also does not include the House’s controversial payroll levy on employers, according to a Boston Globe news report. Both the Senate and House plans would expand MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, while a third proposal being advanced by the Governor’s Office would not.

The plan, endorsed by state senators, is less far reaching than the ones from the House or from Romney, which are designed to have every resident covered by health insurance.

Senators voted to extend government-funded Medicaid coverage to 16,300 low-income parents and 8,000 legal immigrants as part of their consideration of the bill on Thursday. The amendment also would restore certain Medicaid benefits the state eliminated in 2002, including payments for dental care, eyeglasses, and prosthetics. The House bill includes similar changes, though it would only restore benefits to elderly and disabled immigrants.

Senate President Robert Travaglini disclosed that he had altered his original health care proposal to expand Medicaid to cover children in households earning up to 300% of the federal poverty level, or $48,270 for a family of three. The current standard is 200% of the poverty level, or $32,180 for a family of three. The Senate estimates that the change will bring an additional 37,000 children into the state-federal program. The House plan includes the same change.

Senate leaders said the Medicaid expansion will cost $105 million. The federal government will chip in $47.5 million, and senators say they will get the rest of the money by scaling back planned increases in Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals.