Baker facing resistance to MassHealth cuts

In Washington, the fight over the nation’s health care future is full of drama. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is dealing with brain cancer, vowed to return to Capitol Hill today to vote on whether to begin debate on repealing the Affordable Care Act. And President Trump is making it very clear where he stands on repeal.

“The question for every senator, Democrat or Republican, is whether they will side with Obamacare’s architects, which have been so destructive to our country, or with its forgotten victims,” Trump said. “Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare.”

Massachusetts is having its own health care debate. It’s not as dramatic as what’s taking place in Washington and it’s certainly a lot narrower in scope and impact. But it’s one of those rare instances when Gov. Charlie Baker is facing real political opposition to his efforts to rein in spending on MassHealth.

In passing the fiscal 2018 budget, lawmakers approved $200 million in health care fees sought by Baker but refused to go along with his call for cuts in MassHealth spending. Baker responded by sending the cuts back to the Legislature for action, prompting a series of hearings today on Beacon Hill. Baker has strong support in the business community, but he is facing resistance from those who say he is scaling back the state’s commitment to universal health care coverage. The debate has played out over the last few days in a series of opinion pieces in CommonWealth magazine.

Three Democratic state reps — Christine Barber of Somerville, Ruth Balser of Newton, and Jay Livingstone of Boston — accused Baker of trying to have it both ways by criticizing Trump’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act in Washington while pushing for changes locally that would roll back Medicaid expansion authorized by the act. “Balancing the budget is an extremely difficult task in this environment, but should not be done on the backs of the working poor,” they said.

Michael Widmer, a member of the board of the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association and a former president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, was also critical of the Baker administration. He said Baker’s proposals need much more study and there’s no rush to pass them because Medicaid enrollment is going down, not up.

The Baker administration and its allies quickly responded. Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services, said Baker’s reform package “is a step towards preserving universal coverage, not a step away from it.”

Sudders said “critics say that our reform package is not needed because MassHealth enrollment growth has begun to slow, we should wait for Congressional action, and that we are not committed to health care coverage. None are true.” She did not elaborate in her article on Widmer’s claim that MassHealth enrollment is slowing.

Meanwhile, three business leaders — Chris Carlozzi of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Jon Hurst of the Massachusetts Retailers Association, and Bob Luz of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association — sided with Baker, saying it’s time to get the MassHealth house in order. They singled out Baker’s call for moving people above the federal poverty level off of MassHealth.

“For those above the poverty line, we must ask ourselves if taxpayers can continue to afford to keep paying for improper incentives and guardrails, and rising provider expenses which far exceed the growth in our economy,” they said.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

A Suffolk County superior court judge ruled the state’s 20-day voter registration cut-off is unconstitutional, a decision that Secretary of State William Galvin is convinced will only result in administrative chaos. (Associated Press)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Springfield business officials tease the arrival of the city’s second Starbucks, asking, “What’s green and white and is the hallmark of every successful city?” (MassLive)

Controversy surrounding plans for a natural gas compressor station in North Weymouth heats up as Hingham‘s Board of Selectmen will vote to assemble a volunteer task force to monitor the site’s developments, so the town can “engage as appropriate.” The board has already passed a resolution opposing the project. (Patriot Ledger)

Easton officials rejected a mobile park management’s request to raise its rental fees, citing the company’s failure to improve or update rental grounds. The company says it is will have to either sell the park to residents or shut it down. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The New York Times has an explainer on today’s health care doings in the US Senate.

We’re No. 2: Only Vermont outdoes Massachusetts when it comes to states with the lowest approval ratings for President Trump. (Boston Globe)

First son-in-law Jared Kushner denies he colluded in any way with Russians. (New York Times)

New Jersey becomes the third state to raise the age to buy tobacco products to 21. (Governing)

ELECTIONS

James McMahon, a Republican attorney from Cape Cod, will challenge Attorney General Maura Healey next year. (State House News)

A federal judge cleared the way for President Trump’s commission on election fraud to resume collecting voter roll information from the states. (Associated Press)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Pawtucket Red Sox officials toured Worcester’s Canal District and talked with local officials about their quest for a new home. (Telegram & Gazette)

EDUCATION

Boston school officials are consolidating bus routes for the fall, an effort they hope will save $5 million; it means dozens of bus drivers will lose their jobs. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Berkshire Medical Center nurses file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. (Berkshire Eagle)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA moves ahead with its plan to privatize bus maintenance operations at three garages. (CommonWealth) State transportation officials say the T is on the mend, even though many of the improvements can’t be seen yet by riders. (MassLive) The T says it has cut nearly in half the number of employees certified to take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act. (Boston Herald)

Several communities are rallying in an effort to block the MBTA’s plan to build 74-foot monopoles along commuter rail tracks to improve WiFi service on trains. (Eagle-Tribune)

The state is gearing to begin work later this week on the replacement of a Commonwealth Avenue bridge spanning the Massachusetts Turnpike in Boston that will disrupt Turnpike traffic and the MBTA’s Green Line “B” branch until mid-August (optimistically). (Boston Globe)

A new discount airline will land at Logan next spring offering fares as low as $99 one-way to Europe. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that state law does not permit officials to detain immigrants, what the judges called a civil arrest, solely at the request of federal immigration rules. (State House News) A Herald editorial denounces the ruling, while a Globe editorial applauds it.

Mayoral challenger Tito Jackson and Dorchester minister Bruce Wall say Mayor Marty Walsh isn’t doing enough to stem gun violence and homicides in the city. (Boston Herald)

A BB gun outlaw may be back on the streets of East Bridgewater, where reports of shattered car windows showing signs of BB or pellet gun-related vandalism have resurfaced after similar cases were reported last month. (Enterprise News)

PASSINGS

Robert Farmer, a longtime Brookline resident and legendary fund-raiser for Democratic presidential candidates, including Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, and Bill Clinton, died at age 78. (Boston Globe)