Baker calls for bipartisan effort on health care reform
Governor Charlie Baker on Monday urged Congress to stabilize health insurance markets and extend two health programs that provide Massachusetts with almost $500 million in funding.
US Senate Republicans’ latest effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act fizzled last week. Democrats and some Republicans — including Baker — opposed the repeal effort, which would have cost Massachusetts billions in federal health care funding and left fewer residents with health insurance, according to estimates.
Baker said lawmakers should put the partisan fight behind them, and cited two government-funded programs that need immediate attention: the Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers. The deadline to continue funding for both programs was Sept. 30.
“While [Congress’s] lack of action on some of the issues around ACA reform may have been good news, there’s a whole bunch of other things where lack of action creates real issues for everybody and in a very immediate term,” Baker said at the state Health Policy Commission’s annual hearing on health care costs.
Baker was among five governors who spoke last month before the Senate health committee in Washington and asked Congress to ensure the payment of federal government subsidies that help reduce the cost of insurance for lower-income Americans. President Trump, whose administration has control over the payments, has threatened to pull the subsidies.
If the subsidies are ended, insurers are expected to drastically raise insurance rates for 2018. The state Division of Insurance has held off approving insurance rates for individuals buying health plans for next year as the uncertainty in Washington continues.
Many Democrats and Republicans have called for a bipartisan fix to help shield insurers and consumers from big rate hikes.
Baker, at the September Senate hearing in Washington, often found himself in agreement on the issue with one of the most liberal members of the chamber, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
“I’m still waiting on the bipartisan conversation on health care . . . in Washington,” he said Monday.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, covers 160,000 children in Massachusetts, and Congress’s failure to reauthorize the program would cut $295 million in annual federal funding for the state, according to Baker’s Office of Health and Human Services.
In addition, Massachusetts community health centers, which predominantly serve low-income families, could lose $196 million unless Congress votes to keep the dollars flowing.
That would affect 141,000 state residents, according to the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers.
“It would definitely have a huge impact on hiring new staff and continuing programs, including programs to reduce substance use disorder,” said James W. Hunt Jr., president of the league.
Hunt said the program has typically enjoyed support from Republicans and Democrats and he hopes Congress will take up the issue very soon. “We’ve got national disasters that are taking a lot of energy and resources, necessarily, [but] we really have to keep this at the top of the pile,” he said.
Dr. Henry L. Dorkin, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said in a prepared statement that “By missing the September 30th deadline, Congress has inadvertently destabilized two important medical programs in the United States. We urge our elected officials to quickly right this wrong.”
At the state level, Baker has proposed several measures to contain costs within the state Medicaid program, called MassHealth, which provides health coverage to 1.9 million residents.
The Legislature has so far rejected those proposals, which include changing eligibility rules for some adults on MassHealth.
The state Senate is in the final stages of drafting a bill to tackle health costs, and Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg said Monday that some of the governor’s ideas are “in the mix.”