Charlie Baker: Keeping uninsured rate low is key in Massachusetts

Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during a news conference to announce the state's criminal justice system's review findings at the Massachusetts State House in Boston, MA, February 21, 2017.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. –Keith Bedford / The Boston Globe / File

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BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker says he wants to make sure Massachusetts continues to maintain a health care system that has delivered insurance to about 97 percent of its residents.

The Republican governor made his comments Monday after the release of a Congressional Budget Office report that found 14 million Americans would lose coverage next year under legislation proposed by House Republicans. The number could jump to 24 million by 2026.

The GOP proposal relies in part on cuts to the federal-state Medicaid program, forcing states to pick up the tab.

Baker, a former health care executive, says federal Medicaid dollars are critical to helping insure Massachusetts residents. He says the state receives about $10.5 billion in federal Medicaid reimbursement each year, a little more than half of the state’s total $19 billion in Medicaid spending.

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“Delivering virtually universal access to coverage for the people of Massachusetts has been a good thing, and it’s been supported here by Democrats, Republicans, the business community, the provider community and the insurance community, and it’s very important to us that we continue our ability to do that,” Baker said.

Baker said he hadn’t had a chance to review the Congressional Budget Office report but hopes to in the next day or two.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren took to Twitter on Monday and vowed to fight the Republican plan

“Throwing 24 million people off their health care to give billionaires a tax break is heartless & irresponsible. We cannot pass #Trumpcare,” the Massachusetts Democrat tweeted, adding “MA residents have been writing, calling, emailing me – deeply worried about their health care. And they have every right to be worried.”

Any reduction in federal reimbursements could make it difficult for Massachusetts to maintain its comparatively generous eligibility and benefit standards for MassHealth, its Medicaid program, which provides coverage for almost 1.9 million residents.

Just before the November election, Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration approved for Massachusetts a five-year, $52.4 billion Medicaid waiver, which Baker said would allow MassHealth to transition from a fee-based system to one that promotes more coordinated and cost-efficient care for patients.

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In January, Baker sent a letter to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, urging his fellow Republicans to keep key parts of the federal law, including letting Massachusetts keep its mandate that all residents have health insurance.

“Our view on this remains the same, which is we want to make sure that we are able to continue to deliver for the 97 percent-plus of the population here in Massachusetts that’s currently covered under our existing system,” Baker said Monday.

Massachusetts has the lowest uninsured rate of any state.

Member of the state’s all-Democratic U.S. House delegation also vowed to fight the plan.

Rep. Joe Kennedy called the GOP proposal a “masquerade” while Rep. Seth Moulton said it “shifts the tax burden to seniors and hardworking Americans.”

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