BAKER STILL HOPING FOR BIPARTISAN PUSH ON HEALTH CARE COSTS [+VIDEO]
By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 26, 2018....Last summer, lawmakers rejected a plan Gov. Charlie Baker proposed to control costs at MassHealth, opting instead to develop their own health care proposals.
Both branches of the Legislature have now passed health care bills that take different approaches to boosting financially struggling community hospitals but do not include the eligibility reforms Baker had sought or other major changes to the state Medicaid programs.
With those two bills now before a conference committee, Baker on Tuesday suggested conversations around health care costs will continue, hinting at possible future efforts to develop a bipartisan plan.
Asked about the exclusion of MassHealth reforms from the health care bills, Baker pointed to remarks made by a fellow North Shore Republican, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr.
During last Thursday's session, Tarr said the Senate should do more work on its health bill to address its "failure to take more substantive action" on MassHealth reforms and cost containment measures.
"There is going to be a time when we are going to need to drill down into these issues," Tarr said.
Tarr was one of five senators who opposed a move to re-approve the Senate's bill, setting the stage for conference talks with the House.
"He said at some point we are going to have to get serious about talking about health care costs, and I agree with him on that one," Baker said. "And I do believe that this is a perfect issue for a collaborative effort, a bipartisan effort that involves a whole bunch of folks."
SHNS Video: Gov. Baker
MassHealth accounts for roughly 40 percent of the state budget and provides health insurance coverage to about 1.9 million residents. For fiscal 2019, the House included $16.6 billion for MassHealth programs and administration in its budget, while the Senate included $16.5 billion, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
Baker last year agreed to new temporary assessments on businesses to help the state pay for MassHealth and lawmakers appear poised to present him with a bill that will feature additional assessments on hospitals and insurers to stabilize community hospitals or a rate floor to accomplish the same goal.
Neither $41 billion spending plan included a Baker proposal to shift 140,000 low-income non-disabled adults off of MassHealth and onto plans obtained through the Health Connector. The Senate version aims to find savings by giving MassHealth new tools to deal with rising costs of pharmaceutical drugs, including allowing the health and human services secretary to pursue rebates from drug manufacturers.
Baker's comments Tuesday came during a press conference on a housing production bill he filed, which he said was the product of a year of work with "all of the various interested parties."
A future effort on health care costs, Baker said, "will probably look pretty similar to the thing we did with -- if we get this opportunity -- it will probably look a lot like the issue around the housing stuff, where people said you can never get all those warring factions to agree on anything when it came to housing production."
"Well, after a year we did, and the real question at this point is whether we can get it through the legislature," he said.
Baker is running for reelection, with Republican Scott Lively and Democrats Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie all hoping to unseat him.
Baker praised Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders and Dan Tsai, the assistant secretary for MassHealth, for their efforts around reining in costs, saying net MassHealth spending growth "has dropped from high double-digits down to literally 1 or 2 percent a year growth for the last couple of years."
He said that slower growth has facilitated new investments in the Department of Children and Families and K-12 education, along with $93 million in mental health services funding included in next year's budget.
"So I think there's a lot of good news there," he said.
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