"Overseers of Massachusetts' trailblazing health care program made their first cuts yesterday, trimming $115 million, or 12 percent, from Commonwealth Care, which subsidizes premiums for needy residents and is the centerpiece of the 2006 law," according to the Boston Globe. The Connector Authority board made the cuts in response to two recession side effects: "the state budget crisis and a surge in enrollment by the recently unemployed." Commonwealth Care's enrollment has increased in the last three months from 165,000 member to 177,000 members, and is projected to grow to 212,000 next year.
The Globe reports that the largest share of the savings will result from slowing enrollment. "An estimated 18,000 poor residents who qualify for full subsidies, but who forget to designate a health plan, will no longer be automatically assigned a plan and enrolled and thus could face delays in getting care." Dental coverage will be eliminated for roughly 92,000 poor enrollees, garnering savings of an estimated $10 million. "Also hanging in the balance is the health insurance status of 28,000 legal immigrants whose Commonwealth Care coverage was dropped in the budget lawmakers approved for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Governor Deval Patrick has until Monday to decide whether to veto any of that budget, which set aside $116 million less for Commonwealth Care than he proposed." An additional $32 million comes from slowing payments to managed care health insurance companies. "Regulators said that by slowing enrollment growth, the companies would receive less money than they had banked on when they submitted their bids earlier this year."
The progress of the Massachusetts health care initiative is being closely watched in Washington, where Congress is crafting national legislation to extend coverage to more Americans. The Massachusetts law, cited as one model in the national debate, requires nearly everyone to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty (Lazar, 6/24).