CONFUSION SURROUNDS FEDERAL HEALTH REFORM

Members Seek Answers On Local Impact

AUGUST 1, 2009: As President Barack Obama attempts to advance his healthcare reform initiative, Association members are left wondering how they may be impacted by a national insurance plan. The rhetoric and confusion being generated in Washington as to details of the various reform proposals has led to fear and anxiety amongst public retirees over the future of their own health insurance plans.

While the Association has not taken a position on the President's proposal, we have been closely monitoring developments and studying the mountains of information coming out of Washington. As it now stands, the state-run Group Insurance Commission plans and local insurance plans (Blue Cross, Harvard Pilgrim, Tufts, etc) are not directly impacted by the federal reform proposals.

Unlike earlier attempts at national healthcare reform, the current proposal is focused on providing uniform access to healthcare across the country. Although much of the abuses by health insurance companies have been rooted out of Massachusetts, in some parts of the country people are still refused coverage due to preexisting conditions and are denied medical procedures.

What is now being considered in Washington is similar to and based on the Massachusetts health care reform law, which, among other things, requires all residents to have health insurance coverage. Passed in 2006, the law also established a new state agency (Massachusetts Healthcare Connector) that has two main functions: Provide access to private health insurance plans through the Commonwealth Connector, while also providing insurance coverage to low-income state residents through the Commonwealth Care Plan.

"There is still a lot learn about these proposals, but our members are not in danger of losing their health insurance coverage or being forced to join an inferior plan. These proposals mainly impact people without insurance or those who can't afford their current coverage," explains Legislative Liaison Shawn Duhamel, who also serves as the Association's Washington point-main. "One of the controversial aspects of this proposal is that it would require everyone to have health insurance coverage. The federal government would then help low income people pay for their insurance.

"This is what is already taking place here in Massachusetts. By law, every resident must be insured. The state also mandates that certain illnesses and medical procedures be covered, such as reproductive medicine and maternity. These are things we have been doing here for many years and are now being considered at the federal level.

"However, what is a very legitimate concern is the potential cost of such a plan. The non partisan Congressional Budget Office estimate that 10-year price to be $1.5 trillion. That is a lot of money by anyone's standard. Here is Massachusetts we also have to be weary of what impact any of these reforms could have on the healthcare industry. As much as 1/3 of the state's economy is dependent on the various pieces of healthcare. There is a lot to consider and be concerned with, but losing your GIC or local insurance coverage is not one of them."

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