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Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

The Health Care Case Against Question 3

The Health Care Case Against Question 3

October 29, 2010

As the video above says, Question 3 on the Massachusetts ballot next week would cut the state sales tax, devastating health care programs. Health Care For All urges a no vote on the Question 3 (and Question 1). An analysis by the Mass Taxpayers Foundation concluded that the measure would require a staggering $4.8 billion cut spread across the $16.9 billion in discretionary funding that could be cut. For human services, the report finds the consequences enormous, "affecting the lives of tens of thousands individuals and families and resulting in the elimination of scores of programs that have met important individual and societal needs for decades."

In fact, the sales tax burden in Massachusetts is much lower than in most states. Our middle-of-the-road rate, combined with many exclusions, results in relatively low sales tax collections. This chart from the Mass Budget and Policy Center's analysis shows that we are around the 41st highest state in terms of sales tax revenue as a percent of personal income:

In yesterday's Worcester Telegram, UMass Memorial Health Care CEO John O'Brien forcefully describes the impact of Question 3 on health care in Massachusetts:

As a hospital executive and head of the UMass Memorial Health Care system, I am also deeply concerned about how Question 3 will hurt health care services. Community hospitals, school nursing services, public health initiatives, community mental health and substance abuse services and local health centers will all struggle to stay afloat while continuing to provide quality care to patients. Here are three specific examples of the impact in health care if Question 3 passes.

Hospitals and health centers would certainly experience further cuts in their MassHealth (Medicaid) reimbursement rates. Numerous layoffs at hospitals across the state, including painful ones in our hospital system, have already occurred due to cuts in payments to hospitals and physicians. Additional financial losses through the repeal of the sales tax will only increase the immense pressure on hospitals and will likely translate into further hospital staff reductions at almost every hospital in the state.

Hundreds of thousands of residents with Medicaid and other state-supported health insurance coverage would likely see their insurance affected through freezing or reducing enrollment or raising co-pays. This could in turn reduce patient access to their primary care providers, resulting in patients delaying treatment and ending up using already overcrowded emergency rooms.

The Health Safety Net, a fund that partially reimburses hospitals for health care services that they provided for free to those most in need and who lack insurance, is already facing its largest shortfall in many years due to the recession. Further cuts would be likely, meaning that our hospitals will be further burdened with trying to cover this shortfall.

So, please resist the superficial appeal of a sales tax cut. Please join with so many others in our community who aspire to continue to keep our communities strong, safe, healthy and vibrant. Please vote “no” on Question 3 on Nov. 2.

We join John and others in urging a no vote on Question 3.
-Brian Rosman

PS - Needless to say we have long opposed Question 1, which would give a special tax break to alcohol, and slash funds dedicated to substance abuse and public health. They need help before the election- see their site for details, and email info@dontrepealacoholtax to get involved.