Authored by bipartisan leaders (including, full disclosure, my former boss, Speaker DiMasi), the bill required all sides to give – with a mandate that people get insurance, that most businesses provide it and that the state and feds pay big bucks to help lower the number of uninsured. The law is an unassailable success. Some 97 percent of the state’s residents are insured now. But it is costing us millions.
During Tuesday’s latest round of revenue guessing (which is all it can be in this free-fall stage), Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven Panagiotakos openly wondered how long we can keep funding the experiment. Panagiotakos told The State House News Service(subscription required) that officials needed to discuss the future of the individual mandate, which imposes penalties on those who don’t purchase health care.
Later, Senate President Therese Murray called the reporter to say they weren’t retreating from the gains of the 2006 reform. She said the mandate and coverage in the law are priorities that are “safe.” But even Murray admitted, “We’re going to have to scale back a little bit.”
Confused yet? Just wait.
Now there is news that revenues are a full $1.5 billion below what leaders expected they would be, surely meaning more cuts ahead. Legislators appear to be jumping at whatever revenue they can get – hamburgers, hot dogs, satellite TV and more. And, quietly in the burbs, there is an undercurrent of anger that means difficult times for any local tax increase – a warning sign for pols to tread lightly on tax hikes if ever there was one.
Right now, health care reform and the costs that go with seem safe. Legislators and the administration appear content to try to target other health care savings, like changing “fee-for-service” programs at local hospitals.
Health reform just might be the new sacred cow. But if the trends continue and the choices are to raise taxes a lot more, lay off thousands more firefighters, teachers and cops or cut programs – even the ones that are working well, the sacred cows might just find themselves getting herded up.