Massachusetts: The House Budget Lowdown on Health
Last Friday, the MA House finished work on its version of the FY06 budget, to start July 1. It was a conservative document with no new initiatives, and conservative estimates on taxes and spending. Their treatment of health issues was illustrative.
Governor Romney proposed cutting funding for the Free Care Pool by $120 million from this year's amount -- despite rising numbers of uninsured. Hospital leaders were caught off guard when House Ways and Means accepted the Governor's number and worked furiously to restore funding to the FY05 level. On Friday, House leaders put back $85 of the $120 million, though not before cutting $18 million to fix the "20 day withhold" problem. Back in 2003, the State stopped paying for any Medicaid patient who stays in a hospital longer than 20 days (imagine the reaction if Blue Cross or Harvard Pilgrim pulled this trick?). After putting in $18 million to fix this mini-disgrace in the Ways and Means version, House leaders pulled back this money as they reinserted $85 of the $120 million Pool funding.
On access, the House increased funding for MassHealth outreach from $250,000 to $500,000, removed objectionable language relating to health services for legal immigrants, and restored funding for public health programs. They refused to: 1) Remove enrollment caps that will keep thousands of needy low income persons out of MassHealth next year, 2) Restore essential benefits such as adult dental services, 3) Lessen high premiums for the Children's Medical Security Plan, and 4) Permit open enrollment in the Prescription Advantage program.
Special thanks to Reps. Debbie Blumer, Kathy Teahan, Steve LeDuc, John Scibak, Jim Marzilli and others for their tireless efforts in behalf of health care access. It's still early in the tenure of the new House leadership team. These discouraging signs leave us hoping there will be more encouraging news later this year.