Talking Points

Talking Points

Retailers make last-ditch effort to curb MassHealth fee increase

A retailers group this week wrote to the Baker administration, to seek some relief from the rising fees.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
A retailers group this week wrote to the Baker administration, to seek some relief from the rising fees.

The MassHealth saga isn’t taking a break for the holidays.

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts is making a last-ditch effort to change fee increases before they take effect on Jan. 1.

RAM’s point: Several business groups made two assumptions when they agreed to $200 million in annual assessments over two years to help fill budget gaps caused by MassHealth, the state’s insurance program for low-income residents.

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The first: Reforms would accompany the fees, in part to deter some people from switching to state-subsidized plans. The second: Companies without affordable insurance options of their own would continue to avoid any related federal penalties.

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The retailers are still waiting for the Legislature’s reforms, although lawmakers did agree to a change in unemployment insurance rates as a way to ease the pain for companies. Meanwhile, the IRS just started informing certain employers they will be penalized if they don’t offer affordable insurance to workers.

That’s why the retailers this week wrote to the Baker administration, to seek some relief from the rising fees. Not every business group agrees. The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, for example, wants to give the House and Senate more time to work out the thorny issue of fixing MassHealth.

Fees are going up for most companies. But those with significant numbers of workers on MassHealth will be particularly affected, with a new, higher tier of fees. RAM wants companies that already offer qualified health plans to be exempt from that tier. The retail group, among other things, also wants reassurances that companies won’t be “double taxed” by the feds and the state.

Some of the retailers’ proposed changes sound sensible — if the goal is to implement MassHealth reforms. But the main driver for these new assessments is raising revenue, not fixing the system.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com and on Twitter @jonchesto.