GOVERNOR ROMNEY FILES SAFETY NET CARE LEGISLATION
Proposal contains a new "Patient Right to Know" initiative
Governor Mitt Romney today filed Safety Net Care legislation to top off the next phase of his healthcare reform plan to expand access to affordable health insurance. He also announced a new "Patient Right to Know" initiative to keep consumers informed on price and quality issues.
Romney made his announcement at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, which is part of a network of community clinics affiliated with Boston Medical Center.
"Affordable health insurance can be available to all citizens without a government takeover of the healthcare system," said Romney. "Our program uses the money we already spend on uninsured individuals and offers them the opportunity to have health insurance and get better care."
Under the legislation filed today, Romney is proposing to convert the approximately $1 billion annually spent on the uninsured into premium assistance for the purchase of private health insurance. Safety Net Care will offer premium assistance to those not qualified for Medicaid, but earning less than three times the federal poverty level.
The amount of premium assistance will be based on an income sliding scale. As an individual's income goes up, so will their monthly premium. For example, a single person making $23,925 would pay $18.46 per week for a good health insurance product.
With Safety Net Care in place, Romney said it is fair to ask all residents to purchase health insurance or have the means to pay for their own care. This personal responsibility principle means that individuals should not expect society to pay for their medical costs if they forego affordable health insurance options.
People who have not purchased health insurance, or cannot show they have the means to pay for their own care, face the penalty of losing their personal exemption on their state income tax return.
"In the current health care discussions, the most important thing is that low-income citizens of the Commonwealth have the ability to purchase quality health insurance. Boston Medical Center looks forward to continuing to work with the Governor and the state Legislature on the Safety Net Care Plan to provide insurance to those most in need," said Paul Drew, executive vice president, Boston Medical Center.
In April, the Governor unveiled the first phase of his health care reform effort when he filed legislation, still pending, that would allow health insurers to create more affordable, low-cost products.
In conjunction with today's legislation, Romney also announced plans to launch a consumer-friendly web site that will include comparative information on hospitals and providers. The "Patient Right-to-Know" proposal, he said, will help consumers better understand medical costs and quality measures.
"Today, people can use the Internet to research information on nearly everything, yet critical information on the cost and quality of healthcare services is not readily available," said Romney. "Important healthcare information should be accessible to everyone. I am confident that it will lead to a further improvement in care and create the right incentives for hospitals and doctors to keep costs lower."
Quality and costs may vary by hospital or physician and it is confusing for consumers who do not have access to comparative measures. The web site will provide a single portal for individuals to research healthcare providers and services on price, the number of procedures a certain hospital conducts and outcomes.
The health care data is currently collected by the state and would be published for hospitals, nursing homes, physicians, ambulatory surgery centers and pharmacies to give consumers a comprehensive understanding of their medical providers and services, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Tim Murphy.
"The Administration looks forward to working with our providers and payers to develop a sensible and informative website for all consumers in the next 90 days" said Secretary Murphy. "I recognize that measuring healthcare cost and quality is complex, but we must be committed to helping the consumer become more engaged in their own healthcare decisions."
In addition, Romney's legislation includes a feature that will help cities and towns deal with the rising costs of providing health care to municipal workers. This provision would give municipalities the same rights as state government by allowing the creation of a group insurance commission to design and select health care plans for all municipal employees. Currently, the design of healthcare plans is subject to collective bargaining.
A municipal group insurance commission will include management, union representation and a retired employee just as it does at the state level. The amount paid by the municipality on behalf of its employees for health insurance will still be subject to collective bargaining.
"The Governor's healthcare access bill would deliver relief from rising healthcare costs by allowing each community to establish a local body to set the plan design, pricing structures and benefit alternatives," said Geoffrey C. Beckwith, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. "Local officials have asked for the same flexibility and tools that state officials have to control health insurance costs and we applaud the Governor's plan and deeply appreciate his efforts."