DANVERS — The North Shore Chamber of Commerce’s board has taken a stand against the Baker administration’s so-called fair share assessment.
The assessment is being proposed to help close a gap in funding for MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income individuals and Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The chamber says the assessment, a $2,000 fee per full-time employee, would hit most businesses with 11 or more employees that can’t meet certain qualifying health care requirements, such as an 80-percent minimum health plan participation rate.
The chamber’s board voted against the assessment in February, and it is reaching out to members to oppose it.
“The administration estimates the fines will result in $300 million in added revenue to help to make up for the projected $600 million in increased Medicaid costs for 2018,” the chamber said in an email to its members, urging them to call their lawmakers. “The Chamber believes this revenue shortfall should not be placed on the ‘backs of businesses.’”
Certain expansion provisions in the Affordable Care Act that went into effect in 2014 changed who is eligible for MassHealth, and the state has seen a shift away from employer health plans. Enrollment in MassHealth has increased by 70 percent since 2007, and spending has doubled since then, according to the state. And the number of full-time employees statewide who do not take their employers’ health plans has grown by 15 percent since 2011.
Salem attorney Bill Tinti, chairman of the North Shore Chamber’s Health Care Task Force calls the assessment “unfair” because it is aimed solely at businesses.
“The bottom line of all of this is dollars, money,” said Tinti. Federal dollars that once supported the state’s former health care law and Obamacare “won’t be available as they were in the past,” thus driving a shortfall in MassHealth funds.
One way to close the funding gap, he said, would be to reduce MassHealth enrollment.
“The problem with that is if you happen to be a governor who is running for re-election ... you are going to have an awful lot of people who are angry at you,” Tinti said.
The other way would be to raise taxes. In this case, he said, the governor is targeting businesses.
“It’s really in my mind a tax on every business in Massachusetts,” Tinti said.
The chamber recommends the penalty be reduced from $2,000 per employee to $295 per employee, to align with the state’s former health care model.
The fair share assessment on employers who do not provide adequate health care coverage is part of insurance market reforms the Baker administration has proposed in light of growing enrollment and soaring costs for MassHealth.
MassHealth represents almost 40 percent of the state budget, and enrollment continues to grow despite the state’s robust economy. Health care costs also continue to rise.
“The unintended consequences of Massachusetts’ compliance with the Affordable Care Act are forcing taxpayers to cover the cost of a growing number of employed individuals’ healthcare as these workers increasingly move to the publicly subsidized healthcare system,” said Lizzy Guyton, communications director for the governor’s office, in an email.
To protect taxpayers, Guyton said, the fair share assessment is among proposed reforms meant to keep MassHealth sustainable and address health care affordability.
“By implementing these reforms,” she said, “taxpayers would no longer pick up the cost of more and more employed individuals’ healthcare and the Commonwealth would bring back key elements of the original, bipartisan Massachusetts health law passed years ago.”
Tinti said even his law firm would not be able to meet the fair share assessment’s stringent requirements. Businesses would most likely reduce hiring and staff when faced with thousands of dollars in added costs.
“It’s really bad news,” he said. “It’s not the way to solve a problem.”