BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)–The Legislature’s slow-developing plans for a two-year pilot program to expand eligibility for health care premium assistance and subsidies came crashing down Wednesday with a veto from Gov. Charlie Baker, who said he prefers maximizing uptake in plans already offered through the Commonwealth Connector Authority.
The Legislature included the pilot, which would have extended aid to applicants at or below 500 percent of federal poverty guidelines, in its fiscal 2023 budget. Baker returned the proposal with an amendment, which was rejected.
In his veto message, Baker said there are a “significant number of people” who are eligible for affordable health plans through the Connector. “Rather than piloting an expansion of eligibility, I believe maximizing the uptake in the affordable plans currently offered through the Connector should be a priority,” he wrote.
The governor also alluded to “unknown impacts” of the pilot program, repeating the same arguments he made to the Legislature when he sent their plan back with his amendment. “The potential impact on carriers and enrollees, availability of enhanced federal funding and subsidies, and Connector systems changes needed to support such a program are all critical factors that need to be fully understood to minimize market disruption and ensure fiscal and operational viability,” Baker wrote in a letter to lawmakers. “The unknown impacts of such a pilot are, as you know, the reason this provision was returned with an amendment requiring the Health Connector to study these important issues.”
Arguing in late July for the pilot, Rep. Christine Barber said it could be funded with a surplus in the Commonwealth Care Trust Fund, and would help with costs in families that have annual income of about $139,000 for a family of four. She estimated 37,000 residents would have benefited under the pilot program. The proposal’s demise appears to be a casualty of another late state budget.
By waiting until July 18 to agree on a budget that was due July 1, Democratic legislative leaders left themselves without a time cushion to overcome objections from the governor, which culminated with Wednesday’s veto. It appears Democrats would have had the votes to override the veto and implement the pilot, but lawmakers ended formal sessions July 31 and can no longer take override votes. The pilot program would have begun June 1, 2023.
While the Legislature holds some responsibility for the proposal’s demise, Health Care For All channeled its criticism at Baker and the group commended lawmakers “for their persistent leadership and support for this pilot.”
“Today’s decision to block the pilot program that would expand ConnectorCare and allow an estimated 37,000 additional Massachusetts residents to receive affordable health care is a significant step backward for health care coverage and access in Massachusetts,” Executive Director Amy Rosenthal said in a statement. “At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet in the face of rising costs, denying them access to care and relief from health care costs does not make sense. We hear every day on our Helpline from individuals who are unable to afford basic care and who often delay necessary care as a result. No one should be forced to choose between seeing a doctor or paying their rent.”