Baker pushes health cost controls

Gov. Charlie Baker launched the beginning of what promises to be a very interesting debate about how to rein in the cost of health care in Massachusetts, releasing an internal planning document calling for assessments on employers who don’t offer their workers health insurance and caps on the rates health providers can charge for their services.

According to the document, the goal of Baker’s initiative is to curb the flow of workers from the commercial insurance market to MassHealth, the state’s health insurance program for the poor and disabled. According to a letter Baker sent to congressional leaders last week, the percent of residents on commercial insurance has fallen by 7 percentage points since 2012 while the percent on MassHealth, or Medicaid, has risen by 7 points. Medicaid, jointly funded by the state and federal government, now covers 28 percent of the state’s population and accounts for just under 40 percent of the state’s budget.

Baker administration officials say the assessments on employers and the rate caps, along with other measures outlined in the planning document, would hold the increase in Medicaid spending to 2 percent in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The employer assessments, expected to be $2,000 per employee, would raise an estimated $300 million. The assessments would apply to businesses that don’t cover at least 80 percent of their workers and fail to absorb 60 percent of the premium cost.

Details about the proposed rate caps were sketchy. Baker administration officials, however, said the caps would not apply to primary care and behavioral health and would likely be set by the Division of Insurance.

Baker’s proposals are expected to be contained in his budget proposal for fiscal 2018, which is due to be filed January 25.

The proposals are surfacing as a new report commissioned by the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans and backed by three business groups calls for rate caps to help eliminate the price disparities between high-cost and low-cost health providers. The study indicated higher-priced hospitals in Massachusetts charge 2.5 to 3.4 times more than lower-priced hospitals for the same services.

Lynn Nicholas, the president of the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, said the report was based on misleading data. “It’s completely erroneous,” she said.

–BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz made an impassioned call for criminal justice reform at a Martin Luther King Day celebration, and said it’s time for legislative leaders to stop dragging their feet on the issue. (Boston Globe)

Seeking more funding, state prosecutors say they are being overwhelmed by child abuse reports. (Eagle-Tribune)

The state’s package store association says regulation of alcohol provides a template for regulation of marijuana. (CommonWealth) An Eagle-Tribune editorial gives a thumbs down to calls for expungement of past marijuana convictions.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

For the second time in less than six months, a series of underground explosions in downtown Brockton rattled businesses and residents and sent manhole covers flying. (The Enterprise)

A second medical marijuana facility has been proposed in Swansea. (Herald News)

The town of Barnstable has been ranked as one of the 100 most dangerous communities in the country because of a high per capita crime rate, though the group that put together the list cautions that numbers in cities in tourist regions are skewed because of the transient population. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Many of Donald Trump’s cabinet picks are remarkably light on background with the vast enterprises they’ll soon run, reports the Globe’s Annie Linskey.  Monica Crowley, facing plagiarism charges, says she won’t take national security post in the Trump administration. (Washington Post) Trump will take office Friday as the least popular incoming president in at least four decades. (Washington Post)

Trump’s flirtations with Russia go back three decades. (New York Times)

Jaclyn Cashman pans Rep. Katherine Clark’s planned boycott of the Trump inauguration. (Boston Herald) Clark says she’s received lots of positive feedback on her stance. (Boston Globe)

Gov. Charlie Baker calls Rep. John Lewis, who has been taking heat from Trump, an American hero. (MassLive)

After three futile years, the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet with 239 people on board has officially ended with no clues to where or how the plane went down. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

Setti Warren, the mayor of Newton and likely candidate for governor,  says he brought three pro-Trump supporters and three anti-Trump folks together for dinner, and was inspired by the “routine normalness of the conversation.” (MassLive)

It could be a surprisingly competitive election year in Boston, not only with a contested mayor’s race but with challengers for several city council seats. (Boston Herald)

Incumbency means you often own the stage, as Mayor Marty Walsh showed at a slew of Martin Luther King Day celebrations yesterday. (Boston Globe)

Mayoral challenger Tito Jackson draws some raised eyebrows from Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce chief Jim Rooney over his criticism of the deal that brought General Electric to Boston, with Rooney telling Politico such comments “create some level of uncertainty in the business community about what the broader policies would be of potential candidate as it relates to business friendliness and incentives.”

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Old MacDonald had a robot. (CommonWealth)

Airbnb strikes a deal with Kansas to remit taxes on its home-share rentals. The company is seeking a similar deal in Massachusetts. (Governing)

Amazon now has more than 1,800 full-time employees at its new distribution center in Fall River, far surpassing the company’s original promise of 500 jobs. (Herald News)

Businesses are increasingly operating with remarkable transparency when it comes to everything from revenue trends to employee salaries. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The US abortion rate falls to its lowest level since 1973, when the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down. (WBUR)

TRANSPORTATION

The governance structure of the MBTA needs a radical makeover, says James Aloisi. (CommonWealth)

The MBTA starts laying off workers to narrow an operating deficit. (CommonWealth)

Transit advocates want to make buses cool. (Boston Globe)

Worcester officials trying to figure out what to do with money-losing Union Station. (Telegram & Gazette)

A Globe editorial says a longer contract with an operator could make for better operation of the region’s commuter rail system.

Three cheers for natural gas, says Thomas Kiley of the Northeast Gas Association. (CommonWealth)

CASINOS

Stephen Crosby, the chairman of the state gambling commission, says the idea of “destination resort casinos” that will spin-off broader economic development is beginning to bear fruit. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The FBI has arrested the widow of Omar Mateen, the gunman who slaughtered 49 people at an Orlando nightclub, and charged her with obstructing the investigation. (New York Times)

Joan Vennochi says outgoing US Attorney Carmen Ortiz has been vilified for her zealous prosecutions, while a slew of male former federal prosecutors have ridden that profile to political prominence. (Boston Globe)

The use of force by State Police officers doubled last year, but it was driven mainly by the introduction of Tasers to the force, and the figures include incidents where Taser use was threatened by not actually carried out. (Boston Globe)

The Republican sheriffs in Bristol and Plymouth counties may be blazing a trail for Trump administration policy for enlisting local law enforcement agencies to help deport illegal immigrants. (Boston Herald)

A Herald editorial decries the decision by Boston police to abandon a planned social media monitoring effort in the face of criticism from civil liberties groups.

University of Massachusetts Boston Chancellor Keith Motley says there were adults present early Sunday morning when a 20-year-old was stabbed outside his Stoughton home, the scene earlier of a Patriots watching party. Motley was out of town at the time. (Boston Globe)

A Worcester man is accused of smuggling a 14-year-old girl into the country and then assaulting her at his home. (Telegram & Gazette)

Four Lawrence men are arrested on cockfighting charges. (Eagle-Tribune)

An 18-year-veteran of the Quincy police department was arrested after a four-hour standoff with Raynham police. (Patriot Ledger)

PASSINGS

Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, has died at the age  of 82. (New York Times)