Regulators who oversee Massachusetts' 2006 health law have failed to provide affordable insurance options for small employers, despite spending millions of dollars in marketing, according to a new report written by a Tufts University School of Medicine associate professor who was an author of the law under the Romney administration.
"The Connector Authority kind of gave up on a strategy for small employers," said Amy Lischko, who was the commissioner of the Division of Health Care Finance and Policy under then-Governor Mitt Romney.
Lischko's report, which was commissioned by the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based conservative think tank, also says that the Connector will face a loss of up to 35 percent of its income by 2014.
That's when the federal health law will allow as many as 60 percent of the residents enrolled in the Connector's subsidized health insurance plans to switch to Medicaid coverage, and the Connector could lose up to about $11 million it now receives in revenue for enrolling them in coverage, Lischko said.
"They are going to lose a lot of the revenue to keep the infrastructure going," she said.
Lischko said the Connector instead needs to focus more on improving services and products in its non-subsidized operations to attract more private-paying consumers to fill the void.
Lischko also takes the Connector to task for not aggressively pursuing wellness programs, which offer businesses and consumers incentives for taking part in exercise, nutrition, and smoking cessation activities, a strategy that aims to improve health while reducing overall spending.
Lischko said the Connector Authority has done a bad job in helping customers understand the true costs of health care and the financial consequences of their decisions.
"Let's have an honest discussion about what worked well with the Connector and what hasnít, and lets get it out and talk about it," she said.
But Connector Authority board member Nancy Turnbull said authority staff have been working diligently to provide affordable options for small businesses. She noted that the board recently approved a premium discount for small businesses that purchase a wellness program.
"With all due respect, I don't agree with (Lischko)," said Turnbull, who is an associate dean at the Harvard School of Public Health and a former deputy commissioner in the state's Insurance Division.
"It's always easier to cast aspersion from the outside," Turnbull said.
"I think we have, through our website and other things we have done, made it much easier for small businesses and consumers to compare products and enroll in insurance and that was not a functionality on the market before that," Turnbull said.
"There are states all over the country that are looking at this," she said.
She also said that it was too early to know how much revenue the Connector Authority may or may not lose in 2014 when most provisions of the federal health law start.
Connector executive director Glen Shor said in a statement that the Pioneer Institute report failed to mention many of the authority's accomplishments.
"The authorís decision to never once mention that 98 percent of Massachusetts residents have insurance and that the Connector played a significant role in that is telling," he said.
"Small business owners who have enrolled through the Connector have testified to the ease with which they were able to compare plans online and the power of transparency," he added.
"Among the 400,000 newly insured in Massachusetts, nearly 215,000 are covered through the Connector and for some it has literally been a life saver," Shor said.
About white coat notes
|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor
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