Today, the MassACT Coalition announced it will not file the final set of signatures to qualify the MassACT ballot initiative for the November 2006 state ballot. Coalition members collected more than 25,000 of the needed 11,000 signatures to qualify. (138,000 signatures collected, fall and spring, all by volunteers.) The deadline for filing is today at 5pm. The decision was announced at a noon press conference in front of the State House that displayed the final set of signatures.
Chiefly, the health reform law passed in April met most major goals of the MassACT campaign - especially expanded and affordable insurance coverage for most Massachusetts uninsured, restored benefits for 600,000 poor adults on MassHealth, fair payment for health care providers, and more. The major unmet goal - employer responsibility - was only minimally met by the new Health Reform Law, known as Chapter 58.
In brief, the accomplishments of Chapter 58 are good enough for now, and the organizations making up MassACT are working hard on full and fair implementation. A ballot campaign in November would be a major distraction for everyone from the important implementation work ahead.
Then why did MassACT go through the final signature collection phase? Good question.
The key reason was to make sure, as much as possible, that the promises of Chapter 58 were kept:
We wanted to make sure all Gov. Romney's eight vetoes were overridden by the House and Senate - and they were.
We wanted to make sure health reform was fully and fairly funded in the FY07 state budget - and it is.
We wanted to make sure the Romney Administration adequately implemented the MassHealth benefit restorations and eligibility expansions - and they did.
One missing piece - we wanted to make sure the Bush Administration fully funded the federal waiver to pay for health reform - and we're still waiting.
Romney officials assure us the hang-ups are temporary, technical and not substantive, and will not undermine Chapter 58 implementation. Because the filing of signatures is not reversible, coalition members voted unanimously to give the Administration the benefit of the doubt.
Importantly, MassACT members voted unanimously not to dissolve the Committee. The issues of employer responsibility and fair financing of Chapter 58 will not go away. Indeed, they will become more urgent and compelling in 2007 and 2008. The elements of the business community determined to protect and defend employers who don't provide health insurance to their workers know this issue is far from over.
Under Chapter 58, employers who don't cover their workers will still have an economic advantage over employers who do. And employers who cover their workers will still be required to pay their share of the $160 million employer assessment to finance coverage for firms that don't cover. And the financial shortfalls predicted to emerge in FY2009 assure that employer responsibility will continue to be front and center.
MassACT will be around to make sure of that.
* * *
Special thanks to the organizations who comprise MassACT: Coalition for Social Justice, Families USA, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, Health Care For All, MA Building Trades Council, MA Business Leaders for Quality Affordable Health Care, Neighbor to Neighbor, Service Employees International Union Locals 615 and 1199, and United Food & Commercial Workers Union.
Thanks to thousands of individuals who collected nearly 140,000 signatures in fall '05 and spring '06. This was a volunteer effort start to finish.
And a word of praise for Lisa Vinikoor, the indefatigable MassACT campaign director who poured her heart and soul into this campaign since last July. She and former co-director David Jordan (now Sen. Pat Jehlen's chief of staff) organized one heck of a campaign. Lisa is heading for work as a new organizer for the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. Thanks Lisa!