If national health reform was going to somehow slow our progress in Massachusetts, we would oppose it. But the bill we passed through the Senate will do tremendous good in Massachusetts, as it will in every other state. The Senate bill:
+ preserves the ability of the Health Connector to be the exclusive exchange in Massachusetts.
+ provides $447 billion in federal subsidies nationwide, which will help to free up state resources for Commonwealth Care subsidies.
+ provides federal subsidies to individuals and families with incomes up to $43,320 for individuals and $88,200 for families of four. This will reach help thousands of Massachusetts families, as our state currently provides subsidies to individuals and families with incomes up to $32,490 for individuals and $66,150 for families of four.
+ provides tax credits to Massachusetts’ small businesses, including nonprofits, that have less than 25 employees and which offer health insurance.
+ recognizes the efforts of Massachusetts in expanding health care coverage to low-income individuals by providing our state with a $500 million increase in federal Medicaid funds from 2014 to 2016.
Contrary to some claims, the Senate bill also benefits Medicare recipients in Massachusetts. One million of our seniors will receive an annual wellness visit. Approximately 180,000 of our seniors who have fallen into the Part D prescription drug doughnut hole will receive a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs — and we believe we can close the doughnut hole altogether when the Senate bill is merged with the House bill. The bill also improves the complex reimbursement formula in a way that will save Massachusetts hospitals at least $300 million a year. It helps older Americans maintain their retiree health coverage and gives them access to a new voluntary long-term care insurance program which allows them to remain in their homes and communities and avoid being institutionalized. This is one of the many reasons the legislation is supported by AARP.
The Senate bill further makes significant investments in primary care, modernizes payment systems, and rewards high quality care. It simplifies and standardizes paperwork, reducing the 4.8 million hours and $2.3 billion in paperwork costs for the more than 34,000 physicians in Massachusetts, and gives doctors in our state more time to focus on caring for patients instead of dealing with bureaucracy.
There have also been exaggerations leveled against the provision in the Senate bill that places an excise tax on the insurance companies that offer high cost health insurance plans. This measure will affect only a small portion of the very highest cost health plans and will ultimately contain health care costs across the board. We are working with congressional leadership and the White House to ensure this measure is adjusted to not hurt labor members in Massachusetts, who are the very bedrock of our vital middle class.
The legislative process has been a long process. But America is finally about to join all the other major industrial nations in the world that already guarantee health care for all of their people. That we are closer than ever to doing so shows not only the extraordinary challenge this undertaking has been but also the hard work, skill and dedication of our leaders, including one in particular – Ted Kennedy.
In the past, every time Congress came close to making health reform a reality, the details and the old divisions got in the way. Senator Kennedy said his greatest regret in a triumphant Senate career was holding out for too much when significant bipartisan reform was possible with the Nixon Administration in the 1970’s. We will not pass a perfect bill in 2010. But we can take huge strides toward significant reform.
Affordable health care for all Americans was Ted Kennedy’s number one legislative priority. He held out hope it would be this Congress that finally makes that cause a reality. We share that hope – that together we can achieve health care that is true to the principles and character of our country, and that builds on the leadership of Ted Kennedy that was so helpful in bringing reform to Massachusetts.