Thursday, 4:30 PM
Legislators reach health care deal
By Frank Phillips, Globe Staff
Legislative leaders reached a tentative deal today on the most contentious part of the health care bill, agreeing to assess employers who don't provide health insurance $295 for each employee, according to Beacon Hill officials.
The tentative agreement, to be described at a 3:30 p.m. news conference, clears the way for the Legislature to enact a sweeping health care reform bill and make the state eligible for $385 million in federal Medicaid funds.
At a State House meeting that included representatives of the business community, Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and Senate President Robert Travaglini agreed that companies that have 10 or more employees and do not provide health coverage will pay $295 a year for each worker.
The assessment was supported by the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. It is designed to raised $36 million to pay for Medicaid, and also to discourage employers from refusing to provide insurance
''This is a huge breakthrough,'' said Michael Widmer, the president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, who helped broker the deal. ''This is the moment that health reform can become real. It will set Massachusetts apart from the rest of the nation.''
Senate Minority Leader Brian Lees, the Senate Republican serving on the conference committee, said he is confident the agreement all but settles the differences and will allow the conferees to present a bill shortly. He noted that all businesses now pay $62 a year for each employee.
The political consensus began forming in November 2004, when Travaglini and Governor Mitt Romney said in separate remarks that they wanted to focus on dramatically cutting the number of people in Massachusetts without health insurance.
At the time, Travaglini set a goal of providing healthcare coverage to at least half of the state's 500,000 to 600,000 uninsured Massachusetts residents by the end of 2006, pledging to make what he called "an economic and a moral failing" the centerpiece of the legislative session.