House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi said Tuesday he was concerned the implementation of the state’s health care reform could flag in reaching its deadlines, which are important for preserving access to federal funds. Widely credited with championing progressive values within the legislation, DiMasi said he was also wary of the development of insurance products for people under age 26 and for those over 300 percent of the poverty level, as well as the extent of coverage offered by employers. ...
The new health care system, aimed at providing affordable and comprehensive coverage to all the state’s legal residents, incorporates Medicaid expansion with an individual mandate and requirements that employers meet thresholds for offering employees coverage or pay fees. Architects say the bill will winnow the state’s so-called uncompensated care pool and control costs.
Acknowledging uncertainties, and attributing them to the law’s pioneering element, DiMasi predicted “very tough times ahead” when people are required to purchase health insurance. He urged the health center officials, “I assure you that if there needs to be a change in this legislation or a policy procedure or any kind of regulation that affects you adversely so that it hinders you in accomplishing the goals of this bill, you come and see me right away. Because I will change it so it will work. And I’m not talking – we wrote this thing, there’s no pride of authorship for any one of us, I can tell you that.”
DiMasi and an aide said the office is monitoring the formation and meetings of the various advisory boards and commissions created under the legislation, which was signed in April. “We’re watching implementation very carefully and one of the things we’re watching is the timeline,” DiMasi health care policy adviser Chris Hager said. Hager pointed to the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority’s decision to enroll people below the federal poverty line forcibly, if they don’t correspond with the authority, as an example of a regulation implemented, but not prescribed in the legislation. She called it an example of “administrative flexibility.”
Formulating the bill consumed the Legislature for much of the end of last year and the beginning of this year, and lawmakers often cited a “bottleneck” effect in explaining why other legislation seemed stalled. The House and Senate missed a string of deadlines, and the state was late submitting its plan to the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, though DiMasi at the time dismissed the federally imposed deadline as artificial.
In a News Service interview in the Colonnade Hotel lobby, DiMasi rejected reports of tensions between himself and Senate President Robert Travaglini. In his 21-minute speech, DiMasi mentioned neither Travaglini nor Gov. Mitt Romney, but briefly credited the Senate with working hard “to make this legislation work.” During his speech, to a roomful of the health center’s supporters, DiMasi recalled the praise and attention heaped on the legislation in the wake of the bill-signing, quipping, “They quoted my speech in Time Magazine, that was pointed out to me. Of course, I wasn’t very happy about where it was placed. The quote of the week – my quote was placed between Giuliani’s and Saddam Hussein’s. I didn’t know which one I was closer to. And I didn’t want to be close to either one of them, but that’s OK.”
We knew it to be the case, nonetheless it's encouraging to see the Speaker so closely engaged with making health reform get implemented well. His commitment to doing this right has not wavered at all.