Thursday, May 15, 2014

Senate Republicans Seek Federal Waiver from Obamacare; Public Dollars Continue to be Wasted because of IT Failures

In an effort to advance fiscal responsibility within state government, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), Assistant Minority Leader Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Senate Minority Whip Donald Humason (R-Westfield), and Senator Richard Ross (R-Wrentham), the Ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Ways and Means filed an amendment to a $144 million supplemental budget that would have required the Governor of the Commonwealth to formally request a federal waiver to allow Massachusetts to return to the state’s original health care website exchange, which was built in 2006, rather than paying for another costly website to comply with the Federal Affordable Care Act. The text of the supplemental budget included a $65 million item to fund the operations of the Connector, compelling the Senate Republican Caucus to file the amendment, which would have frozen any additional connector funding from being used to create a new website until after a formal waiver request was made.

“Month after month, the Connector has spent millions of dollars trying to create the Taj Mahal of insurance websites while many consumers’ coverage is at risk,” said Senator Tarr. “Now the agency wants to continue on a two-track path that will cost millions more and jeopardize the health insurance policies of even more people, even though we had a system that worked to begin with.”

Senator Tarr went on to say “If the federal government is sincere in its claims that Massachusetts has been a model that should be recognized and accommodated, then it should be more than willing to grant a waiver to allow us to return to a system that previously worked to secure coverage for 98% of our residents and cost only $10 million to build. We should be rewarded for that accomplishment, not punished.”

Regarded as the model for the nation’s federal health care plan, the Massachusetts Health Care Connector led to over 98% of the Commonwealth’s residents having health care insurance coverage. To transition the citizens of the Commonwealth to the then newly created plan, the state built a website that cost less than $10 million to design; however, in an effort to comply with the federal act, Massachusetts has now spent nearly a half billion dollars in public funds. Expenditures to comply with the federal health care law include:

• $270 million in federal grants to implement the Affordable Care Act;

• $120 million for the continued usage of Commonwealth Care plans; and

• $50 million to pay Optum, a health care technology company base in Minnesota, for assisting with an application backlog.

The massive website boondoggle has led many Massachusetts’ citizens to submit paper applications and/or have been placed on temporary Medicaid until the state is able to determine the appropriate coverage, causing a spike in health care costs. Now there are plans to completely scrap the first federal care exchange attempt, which cost over $100 million in public funds, and to spend an additional $100-$145 million on a new website exchange.

Recently, the federal government has demonstrated flexibility regarding the Massachusetts Health Care Exchange by consenting to extensions such as rating factors and the grace-period for calendar year plans.

Unfortunately, the Senate Republican Caucus was unable to secure the needed votes for the amendment, which failed by a roll call vote of 4-33 along party lines. Despite the rejection of today’s amendment, Tarr and the caucus remain steadfast in their commitment to returning to a system that works rather than endlessly pursuing one that may not.

Next week the Senate will debate a $36 billion state budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015, where the caucus plans to file many amendments that highlight fiscal responsibility, transparency, and accountability.