Baker: Health Care Tack Depends on Talks with Lawmakers
By Colin A. Young
State House News Service
BOSTON -- Proposals around health care reform could be coming from Gov. Charlie Baker in the first weeks of the next two-year legislative session, though the governor said Thursday that he wants a sense of the “rhythm” of the session before deciding just how his administration settles on a possible course of action.
Over the last two years, the Legislature has largely eschewed Baker’s health care proposals in favor of pursuing, although not ultimately agreeing upon, its own ideas. The governor, House speaker and Senate president have all indicated health care will again be a main focus of work in the 2019-2020 session.
Asked whether he plans to submit a package of health care legislation in the new session or wait for the House or Senate to make the first move, Baker said Thursday that’s something he needs to talk about with legislative leaders.
“We’ve got to talk to folks in the Legislature about that between now and January to get a sense for what they think the rhythm of the session is going to look like, but we certainly have ideas,” Baker said after speaking at the annual Massachusetts Association of Health Plans conference.
Baker also hinted that the annual state budget bill he must file in January could also address health care issues, putting his ideas in front of lawmakers at the very beginning of the two-year session.
“We can either propose those as standalones or we could just incorporate them into a budget,” Baker said of his administration’s ideas. He added, “I think it’s likely you’ll see some initiatives there.”
If Baker proposes reforms in the budget that would save the state money or reduce state spending around health care, it could free that money up to be spent in other areas of the budget.
In the summer of 2017, Baker offered the Legislature a package of reforms aimed at controlling costs at MassHealth and lawmakers rejected his plan in favor of developing their own approach. After the MassHealth reform plan failed, Baker and the Legislature agreed to assessments on employers in 2017 to help pay for the program. The assessments on employers with six or more employees are designed to run through 2018 and 2019 and to generate a total of $400 million.
The governor said Thursday that “there are always reforms and initiatives associated with MassHealth” and that he fully expects there to be more proposals in the new session. He singled out the high costs the MassHealth program pays for prescriptions drugs as one area he’d like to tackle next session.
“I think you’re likely to see us try to come up with some other approaches to deal with that that ensure people have access to the medications they need but also in a way that creates a process around affordability,” he said.
Taking another run at health care, the Senate passed a health care policy bill last November but the House did not follow suit until June due to, among other things, the death of Rep. Peter Kocot who was authoring the House’s bill. With about a month before formal business was to end, the House agreed to a bill that would have used $337 million in new assessments to stabilize community hospitals.
The two branches were unable to reach an agreement by the end of July on a compromise bill, with House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano saying at the time that the branches were “just too far apart philosophically to a come to a resolution that fit our agenda.”
In the wake of this session’s breakdown on health care, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said last month that he hopes to start work on the next health care bill “as early as possible” once the new sessions kicks off in January.