Senate passes $100 million tax as GOP Caucus attempts to rein in Connector Authority

( – promoted by Rob “EaBo Clipper” Eno)

The Massachusetts Senate Republican Caucus opposed a bill passed by Senate Democrats today that imposes a $100 million tax on hospitals to lower small business health insurance costs while granting greatly expanded powers to the state’s Health Care Connector Authority.

Although Democrats insist the new “assessment” on hospitals is not a tax, members of the GOP Caucus argued that it would cripple community hospitals.  Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei singled out Partners HealthCare for the sharpest criticism, saying the provider is largely responsible for driving up health care costs for employers.

Partners has voluntarily come forward to contribute $40 million towards the assessment.  But with the provider sitting on more than $5 billion in reserves and assets, Tisei likened Providers’ $40 million offer as “the equivalent of paying a parking ticket.”

“If Partners is so eager to deflect attention away from its role in driving up health care costs, why don’t we ask them to pay the full $100 million?” Tisei said.  “Why should we let them destabilize our community hospitals and drag everyone else down with them?”

Tisei also criticized Governor Patrick for doing nothing to help businesses struggling with rising health care costs during his first 3 ½ years in office.  Tisei said the Governor’s recent attempts to impose rate caps on insurers have only made things worse.

“He’s caused this whole problem,” said Tisei.  “This is what happens when you play politics and don’t try to do anything to solve the real problem.”

The Caucus also turned its attention to reining in the Connector Authority.  The Connector was created in the state’s 2006 health care reform law to serve as a clearinghouse of information for individuals and businesses seeking insurance.  But somewhere along the way, it has morphed into a much different role than the Legislature envisioned.

The Connector is now openly competing against private insurers, using public funds to solicit employers and encourage them to sign up directly for insurance coverage under its new Business Express program.

During debate, the Senate adopted several Caucus amendments, including ones that:

• prohibit the Connector from using Department of Revenue data for solicitations or advertising;

• create a special commission to study the establishment of a reinsurance pool and other rate reduction initiatives;

• mandate advance notices of minimum creditable coverage changes; and

• require the Connector Oversight Commission to convene by September 1.

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