On Beacon Hill: Cost sharing … and caring

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — So, how many days a week do you suppose Charlie Baker wakes up and thinks, “GOD, I wish Hillary had won!”?

“Seven” may be a valid guess. Because an inconvenient truth has stalked Baker’s political life since the election of Donald Trump: his job would have been enormously easier this year, and his job security greater, had Hillary Clinton been elected. That truth came into starker-than-ever relief last week.

Baker was getting ready to leave for Las Vegas to talk clean energy as news broke that his party’s leader was hoping to demolish Obamacare by allowing the sale of low-cost, low-benefit plans aimed at the young and healthy, and withholding subsidies for insurance copays to the poor at the state level.

It was easy to anticipate Baker’s reaction: walking through a well-worn script that boils down to the message: “Don’t Blame Me, I’m From Massachusetts.” And pretty much, the people of Massachusetts haven’t.

Guns. Gays. Coal. Immigration. Contraceptives. Climate change. On almost every eye-catching Trump maneuver this year, the governor’s instinct for pragmatism in rhetoric and decision-making has seen him through. But now, the veteran number-cruncher and former health insurance executive faces more daunting budget and policy challenges, caused by Republicans.

Flickr / Gage Skidmore

President Trump

The president signed a short executive order Thursday fostering the creation of new bare-bones plans with low premiums, aimed at people whose health needs are few. He said the move addresses one of the main complaints about Obamacare — not enough choice for consumers.

Then came the blockbuster: The president announced he plans to end $9 billion in “cost-sharing reduction” subsidies that enable the functioning of Obamacare on the state level. The president pointed out that the payments were never funded by Congress, but rather paid through administrative accounts controlled by the Executive Branch.

U.S. House Republicans sued over the matter three years ago, arguing the administration has no right to fund a major program like this without congressional appropriation. They won. Even so, officials from both parties had urged Trump to continue the payments, and Baker was out in front.

As with most everything except, perhaps, the national Marine Monument off Cape Cod, the governor disagrees with his president on the dismantling of Obamacare. That frequent disavowal has made his most potent political rival, state Attorney General Maura Healey, arguably his most potent policy ally.

As she’s done many a time this year, Healey said she’d go to court against the federal administration, aligned with Baker’s point of view, joining other state AGs in a lawsuit to block termination of the CSR’s.

For his part, Baker issued a statement that “the Trump Administration is making the wrong decision to eliminate cost-sharing reductions for all 50 states, as it will destabilize insurance markets and jeopardize coverage for thousands of Massachusetts residents.” [See more on Baker’s and Healey’s reactions below.]

Health coverage and its provision to the poor had already made the administration’s life complicated last week, as the Massachusetts Health Connector that administers public insurance for low-income residents tried to set rates for MassHealth for the coming year.

The Connector was expected to announce 2018 MassHealth rates early in the week, but delayed its announcement to make a last-second decision as to whether premiums should rise an average of 10.5 percent or 26.1 percent. The lower rate was announced as official Thursday, but it was contingent on … continuance of the CSR’s, which the president announced at 10 p.m. that evening would be ending. The Connector said it would explore “alternative pathways.”

The flurry of healthcare developments came at the end of a short week that was long on news even before the Grand Finale.

— Craig Sandler

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Three finalists for Cannabis Commission director to be interviewed Tuesday
  • McGovern on Trump’s Iran move, Polito on domestic violence
  • Baker, Healey rail against Trump healthcare maneuver
  • Watch: Chang-Diaz, others weigh in on criminal justice reform
  • Senate gun bill restricting bump stocks set for House showdown

Inbox [Oct. 15-21]: News and notes from UMass Medical School, Worcester State, Clark and Stone Soup, Y.Litigate and You Inc.

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

UMass Medical School receives $10M gift for rare-diseases research

A new institute for rare-diseases research at UMass Medical School will build on the school’s already substantial accomplishments in the fields of gene therapy, RNA biology and RNAi technology to accelerate the development of novel therapeutics for a host of disorders, Chancellor Michael F. Collins said.

The Li Weibo Institute for Rare Diseases Research, supported by a $10 million endowment gift from the Li Weibo Charitable Foundation in China, will be home to existing faculty whose expertise has led to profound discoveries related to diseases such as ALS, cystic fibrosis, Canavan disease, Rett syndrome, Huntington’s disease, fragile X syndrome, CDKL5 disorder and others.

Lapsed funding for children’s insurance initiative snared in federal healthcare flap

The current CHIP funding arrangement is especially beneficial to Massachusetts and other states, since the federal government provides 88 percent of the program’s dollars compared to the usual 50-50 split for other jointly funded state-federal healthcare programs.

BOSTON — Healthcare industry insiders, including Gov. Charlie Baker and elected officials on Beacon Hill, are beginning to fret over the future of a program that provides insurance coverage to about a quarter of children in Massachusetts, mostly on the federal government’s dime.

“Developments over the next several months could have strong repercussions for Massachusetts children,” the Massachusetts Medicaid Policy Institute, a program of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, wrote in June in a 14-page report on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

The report concludes Massachusetts and other states would exhaust their current CHIP allocations by March 2018 unless Congress took action.

Video: Baker on Amazon HQ2, etc.

The governor talks to reporters about the best location for Amazon’s planned $5 billion-plus headquarters. He also shares opinions on criminal justice reform, an award for disgraced former House speaker Sal DiMasi, and the Red Sox [4 minutes, 28 seconds].

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 205]: Last stop, Union Station

Whether it’s failed nightclubs or high-speed trains, improved commuter rail service to Boston or deficit spending, Union Station has a way of staying in the news — and in the hearts of so many residents and decision makers in our city.

It’s a monument not only to history but to the possibilities of tomorrow. But much like the covert entrance to its parking garage, there is another side rarely seen.

For far too many of our friends, coworkers, uncles and sisters it’s become the final destination of a life overtaken by opioid addiction. Hitch has thoughts.

Inbox [Oct. 11]: News and notes from Assumption, A Livable Worcester, REC, WPL Foundation, QCC, UniBank and Ninety Nine

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Assumption’s annual business ethics lecture to address Worcester’s opiate crisis

Assumption College’s annual Business Ethics Lecture will feature Joseph Sawicki, lead clinical pharmacy coordinator at Saint Vincent Hospital, who will discuss Worcester’s opiate crisis and the ethical difficulties faced by caregivers, managers and providers in a healthcare setting.

The lecture, “Making Sense of Complex Patient Care Issues,” will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, in La Maison Auditorium at Assumption.

Editorial: Silence is deadly to needed gun reforms

When he opted out of a moment of silence last week in the House chamber, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes was not disrespecting the victims of the mass murder in Las Vegas.

He was respecting his job.

“Anywhere else — in a Rotary Club, at a baseball game — do a moment of silence,” the Connecticut Democrat told “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah Tuesday.

“If you’re in the one room where you could start fixing this problem … that’s negligence. That’s not honoring anybody. Honoring the victims would mean we’re going to fix this,” Himes said.

It’s sad how much sense this makes.

On Beacon Hill: All eyes on Washington

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Bump stocks, Bump’s rising stock and the gamble of a little-known state representative from Lawrence looking to bump up the political ladder.

When everything else seems to be in limbo, sometimes there’s no easier reprieve for lawmakers from the malaise on Beacon Hill than to open up the newspaper and find something worth a reaction.

The slow burn of criminal justice and healthcare reform bills may have something to do with the decision state Rep. Juana Matias, a first-term legislator from Lawrence, made this week to set her sights on something bigger – Congress.

Go where the action is.

Matias has barely had time to settle into the rhythms of the Legislature, but even in her short political career she has been an embodiment of the newish political culture in Massachusetts that spits on the wait-your-turn philosophy of previous generations.

Like U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, who knocked off an incumbent in his own party on his way to being a talked-about 2020 White House contender, Matias took on and beat Democrat Marcos Devers in 2016 and now plans to run for U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas’s seat next year. Tsongas, of course, plans to retire, so there’s no one there to dethrone. Just a wide-open field with no clear heir to the seat.

Matias came to the United States with her family from the Dominican Republic when she was five, and now sells herself as “Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.” But she has competition for that title.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Rep. Juana Matias of Lawrence, left. and Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton, testify at the start of the June 9 Public Safety Committee hearing.

Andover’s Dan Koh, one of at least six Democrats now running in the Third District, turned heads last week when he announced a staggering $805,000 fundraising haul in the month since since he announced his campaign. But if the desired effect was to scare off further challengers, it didn’t work.

Sen. Barbara L’Italien is another legislator looking to punch her ticket out of Boston to Washington, D.C., showing how even the prospects of entering the minority in Congress can have a brighter shine than being in the supermajority at the state level.

The goal is the same, but the dynamic different for state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who is trying to escape the Republican minority in the Massachusetts House to join the GOP majority in the U.S. Senate.

With just one month left until the Legislature recesses for the year, the Democrats’ agenda has been slow to take form, and business groups moved to undercut one leg of their stool by filing a lawsuit challenging the attorney general’s certification of a ballot question to impose a surtax on millionaires.

The Raise Up Coalition believes its constitutional amendment remains on solid footing, but the business group’s case is probably more than just a wish and prayer. If successful, it would seriously dampen the excitement of lawmakers looking ahead to 2019 and all the money they think they’ll have to spend.

The one thing the branches have been able agree on is that the budget they produced in July was fine as it was, before Gov. Charlie Baker got his hands on it.

House leaders flexed their muscles in a way not seen for at least several years, completing their work to reverse all $320 million worth of spending vetoes made by Baker in July as the Republican governor warned about the risk of a third straight cycle of mid-year budget cuts.

House Democrats, however, didn’t want to be told about the need to exercise caution, and their confidence in their own budgeting ability, whether it will prove to be misguided or right on the money this year, got a shot in the arm by a September state revenue report showing that, for the time being, Massachusetts has a $124 million cushion.

The Senate has been taking up budget overrides at a slower pace – just $40 million so far – but there’s little indication to suggest its members will be more conservative about spending than their counterparts in the House.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • DeLeo, state leaders expect to ‘move quickly’ on bump-stock ban
  • Markey on birth control, Baker on PR, Warren on Equifax
  • Pot power drain on minds of Bay State utility officials
  • Watch: Healey on Las Vegas shooting
  • State bestows highest honor on fallen Officer Tarentino
Seven Hills

Inbox [Oct. 8-14]: News and notes from Seven Hills and Children’s Friend, UniBank, Assumption, city and UMass Medical, Becker, QCC, Anna Maria

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Children’s Friend affiliates with Seven Hills Foundation

Worcester-based Children’s Friend recently became an affiliate of Seven Hills Foundation. Children’s Friend provides high-level professional mental health services, adoption and related services, grief support, and early education and care for approximately 1,000 infants, toddlers and preschool children throughout Central Mass.

“Children’s Friend will continue to serve the Central Mass. community as it has for decades; offering care and comfort to children, adolescents and families,” said Dr. David Jordan, President of Seven Hills Foundation. “Children’s Friend has for many years served as the beacon for children’s programs and services. The partnership we now share together will only further that.”

Seven Hills Foundation offers program sites at 170 locations throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island and employs nearly 3,800. It offers a continuum of support and services to 28,000 children, adults and seniors with disabilities and other life challenges through its 12 affiliate organizations.

In light of Vegas massacre, DeLeo sets meeting on Mass. gun law

Massachusetts may already have some of the toughest gun laws in the country, but in the wake of the concert massacre in Las Vegas Sunday night House Speaker Robert DeLeo says he’s not done trying to improve.

DeLeo told reporters he plans to meet with Northeastern University criminologist Jack McDevitt Thursday to review the impact of a 2014 gun law that included suicide prevention initiatives, firearm tracing and new background check requirements.