US grant a 3-year phase in period instead of exemption from new federal rules.
When state officials objected to the new rules of the US healthcare - on the premises that the costs for small businesses and their employees would go up, federal health officials decision is that Massachusetts could change the health law in a phased manner over three years.
AdvertisementThe Massachusetts Health Care Law of 2006, is seen as a model for the Affordable Care Act, "We had hoped for a complete waiver," said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, who had complained US rules would eliminate state "rating factors" that allow premium discounts for small business cooperatives that included wellness initiatives.
"This is just a way of delaying and mitigating the pain," Hurst said.
Kristen Lepore, vice president of government affairs for the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, felt the decision to allow Massachusetts more time to implement federal rules is only a temporary fix.
"There's no legitimate reason for the federal government to eliminate our rating factors," Lepore said. "We don't know why we aren't being given the flexibility to do what's already working here."
The senior vice president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans Eric Linzer, felt the phase-in "will help mitigate but not prevent premium increases."
The phase-in period looks "like a pig wearing lipstick to many small businesses," said Josh Archambault, health care policy director for the Pioneer Institute, a public policy research group in Boston.
"The health reform law specifically recognized the special circumstances for a state that had already expanded coverage and reduced their uninsured rate," a spokeswoman for the centers said in a statement. "As such, we are providing extra time to transition from Massachusetts' rules for the small group market to the new standard."
At present the state allows insurers consider 10 factors while setting rates for small businesses, whereas the federal government has a rating for only 4 factors - age, number of family members, geographic area and tobacco usage.
To ensure stability for states that "were succeeding in providing health insurance coverage for their residents prior to the enactment of the (federal) law," official Gary M. Cohen, said insurers could implement two thirds of the rating factors by next year, one third in 2015 and meet all the terms by January 1st 2016.
Barbara Anthony, the Massachusetts undersecretary for consumer affairs and business regulation, said that "We're pleased to see their understanding of the uniqueness of our market by allowing the phase-in period," she said of the centers. "Now we have to refocus our energies on reducing health care costs."
Anthony said that insurers will not be allowed to charge more overall for small business premiums under the federal rating factors than they do using state factors. But she acknowledged premiums may be increased for some employers even as they are reduced for others.
"If you do nothing, you will get an increase," Anthony said. "But you don't have to sit still. You can shop around."
Hannah Punitha (IRDA Licence Number: 2710062)
Robert Weisman, April 2013
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