Bay State Cuts Healthcare Program Budget

July 1, 2009
Michael Sheehan

The agency that runs Commonwealth Care, the landmark Massachusetts program that requires almost all Bay Staters to have health insurance, recently voted to cut the program’s budget by $115 million. The Connector Authority, which administers Commonwealth Care, blamed the cuts on the state budget crisis and the growing numbers of unemployed workers who are applying for coverage. The program covers 177,000 Massachusetts residents and enrollment was projected to grow to 212,000 next year.

The program, which subsidizes health insurance premiums for low-income residents, plans to end a practice that automatically assigned new enrollees to a participating health insurer, if the applicant doesn’t choose a health plan. The effect would be both to slow enrollment growth and curtail subsidy payments. At the same time, the fewer new enrollees would result in lower payment to the health insurers. Bay State legislators also added to the cuts by knocking coverage for 28,000 legal immigrants out of the budget, a move that could be reversed by Gov. Deval Patrick when he reviews the budget.

The Massachusetts program has been troubled by financial shortfalls since it was started three years ago. The addition of large numbers of insured patients has also caused a surge in demand for primary care medical services. As a result, first-time patients are waiting months for an appointment with a primary care doctor. Those problems may have national implications, according to some political pundits, since the Massachusetts program has been widely viewed as a model for similar plans that have been proposed as part of the Obama administration’s healthcare reform program.