MA Lawmaker Puts Forward Mandatory Employer Health Coverage Bill

December 1, 2004 ( - Massachusetts employers would have to offer health-care coverage under a new bill proposed by an influential state senator.

Senator Richard Moore’s bill levies what the lawmaker calls a “health access assessment” on companies not offering workplace health coverage, the Boston Globe reported.

Under Moore’s plan, the required payment would be calculated as a percentage of payroll, and firms with total payroll of $50,000 or less would be exempt. Meanwhile, Moore’s plan would also extend state financial aid to small businesses and certain low-income individuals to help them purchase insurance; the subsidy would be extended to people making between 200% and 400% of the federal poverty level, or up to $49,960 for a family of two.

The state would automatically enroll in private plans people whose employers don’t provide insurance and would pick up the tab for insuring the individuals with the most serious health problems, effectively taking them out of the general risk pool so the state can reducing costs for everybody else.

According to the Globe report, a proposed 50 cents a pack cigarette tax hike is critical to paying for the bill though Democrats in the state legislature have been reluctant to propose tax increases in recent years. The current state tax is $1.51 a pack.

McDonough estimated the cigarette levy would generate about $150 million, and the employer assessments will also be a source of revenue. But he acknowledged that even if the federal government matches the resulting new level of Medicaid spending, it is likely that more money will be required to implement everything in Moore’s bill.

“This is a concrete package that will lead to a major expansion in coverage and a lowering of cost for employers providing coverage now, and it will get state government back in the business of leading the healthcare system to lower costs and better quality,” John McDonough of Health Care for All, which helped develop the bill, told the Globe.

However, Governor Mitt Romney and Senate President Robert Travaglini have previously turned aside employer mandates and new state spending.

Romney’s spokeswoman told the Globe the Republican governor opposed the proposed tax increase and mandate on employers. “The governor is pleased that a productive dialogue has begun on the important issue of health-care reform,” spokeswoman Shawn Feddeman told the Globe. “However, it is critical that any reform of our health care system not include an increase in taxes or burdensome mandates on our small businesses.”

Estimates of the number of uninsured people in Massachusetts ranges from the state’s calculation of 450,000 to the 650,000 counted by the US census. The higher estimate is about 10% of the state’s population.