Large Firms Show Heavy Use of Mass. State Health Care Subsidies

April 2, 2009 ( - Many Massachusetts employers-particularly large retailers-continue to rely on state subsidy programs to provide health benefits to their workers, according to a new report.

A Boston Globe news account said the state’s bill for providing health care to employees and their families who work for large companies increased 24.6% in the last fiscal year, to $793.7 million, according to the report from the state’s Division of Health Care Finance and Policy.

The number of employees and their dependents covered by state programs increased 12% in 2008, compared to 2007, the report said.

The report was intended to update the effects ofthe state’s 2006 health care law requiring employers to make a minimum contribution to their employees’ health care coverage costs.

In light of the findings, the state’s largest business trade group, Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) , is criticizing a proposal by the group Health Care for All to increase the minimum employer health care contribution. Both organizations were involved in crafting the 2006 law, according to the Globe.

“When we designed health care reform, we tried to strike a balance in terms of what employers’ responsibilities should be, and also tried to make sure we weren’t placing Massachusetts employers at a competitive disadvantage,” AIM’s chief executive, Richard Lord, told the Globe . “We have seen that health care reform is supported by most employers. I worry that if we start tinkering with the law, that support could erode.”

Meanwhile, a representative of the consumer group said questions about employers' responsibilities under the law are fair to raise.

"Increasingly employers are getting tremendous benefits under health reform," said Lindsey Tucker, policy manager at Health Care for All. "The question is not whether employers are doing their fair share for the employees they are covering, it's whether they are doing their fair share for their employees the state is covering."

The law requires companies with 10 or more full-time employees to have 25% of the workers enrolled in a company plan or the firm must pay 33% of workers' premiums. Companies with more than 50 employees must meet both requirements.

Those that don't meet the thresholds must pay $295 per employee into a pool for the uninsured.

According to the report, the current list of companies with 50-plus employees using state-subsidized care is largely similar to last year's. Retailing giant Wal-Mart tops the list with 4,796 workers receiving public health coverage, followed closely by supermarket chain Stop & Shop with 4,731.

The report is available here .