October 14, 2017

On Beacon Hill: Cost sharing … and caring

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State House News Service / WhiteHouse.gov

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie met in Washington, D.C., last month to work together on ways to combat opioid addiction and drug deaths. Baker, who endorsed Christie during his brief run for president, has often been at odds with Republican President Donald Trump.

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

LOOKING AHEAD

Three finalists for Cannabis Commission director to be interviewed Tuesday

The head of the Children’s League of Massachusetts, the state treasurer’s chief policy and legislative advisor, and an economic and policy analyst from Rhode Island state government are the three finalists for the job of executive director of the Cannabis Control Commission.

The CCC will interview Erin Bradley, executive director of the Children’s League of Massachusetts; Shawn Collins, assistant treasurer and director of policy and legislative affairs; and Norman Birenbaum, a principal analyst at the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation, in public on Tuesday.

Colin Young / State House News Service

Steven Hoffman, chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission, has been serving as the commission’s interim executive director.

The panel is expected to pick its preferred candidate on Thursday.

Bradley joined the Children’s League in 2011 after having worked as a coordinator for the Children’s Mental Health Campaign and as a policy analyst for state Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland. Bradley has also worked as assistant photo editor at the Chicago Sun-Times and as a photojournalist for the Boston Herald, according to her biography on the Children’s League website.

Collins has been state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg’s point person on pot since voters legalized the drug last year, and had begun to prepare a regulatory structure for the new industry until oversight of marijuana was removed from the treasurer’s direct auspices. Collins previously worked as chief of staff and general counsel to state Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, and served as chairman of the Webster School Committee.

A Newton native, Birenbaum has been responsible for starting up a regulatory environment for medical marijuana in Rhode Island. Before decamping to the Ocean State, Birenbaum worked as a regional field director for Deval Patrick’s 2010 reelection campaign; he served as Lt. Gov. Tim Murray’s personal assistant; worked on U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign; and then as a regional director for Warren’s Senate office, according to his LinkedIn profile.

For its first executive director, the CCC is looking for someone who has experience working in regulated industries and a strong knowledge of Massachusetts’ legal marijuana law. The CCC will meet at 2 p.m. on Tuesday on the 21st floor of One Ashburton Place, Boston, to conduct public interviews with the finalists.

— Colin A. Young

A LITTLE BIRDIE …

McGovern: Trump hits ‘all-time high in recklessness, stupidity’

Polito on Domestic Violence Awareness Month

NOTED

Baker, Healey rail against Trump healthcare maneuver

Gov. Charlie Baker called on Congress Friday to immediately authorize funding to continue health insurance subsidies used by insurers to lower costs for consumers after President Donald Trump announced Thursday night that he would end the payments, a move that could unravel Obamacare insurance marketplaces.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey also joined with attorneys general from California, Kentucky, Connecticut and other states to try to intervene and block the White House in the courts from cutting off the cost-sharing subsidies.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Attorney General Maura Healey

“The governor believes 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,” Baker spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton said in a statement.

Baker said Congress should “take immediate action to appropriate these funds,” which were being paid to insurers on a month-to-month basis after the Republican Congress sued the Obama administration for making the payments spelled out in the Affordable Care Act, but never authorized by Congress.

Trump Tweeted Thursday night: “The Democrats ObamaCare is imploding. Massive subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped. Dems should call me to fix!”

The attorneys general planned to file the lawsuit in the Southern District of California seeking a declaratory judgment that the CSR payments, authorized under the Affordable Care Act, are lawful and that Trump was in violation of the law by abruptly ending the subsidies.

Healey also said the attorneys general would seek an injunction in the form of a temporary restraining order to ensure that the administration makes the payments in October and subsequent months until the case is resolved.

“This isn’t about politics. This is about people. This is about human lives,” Healey said on a conference call organized by California Attorney General Xavier Bacerra, blaming Trump for using “cruel, selfish means” to sabotage Obamacare.

“He needs to be stopped.”

— Katie Lannan and Matt Murphy

VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Rosenberg, Chang-Diaz, others weigh in on criminal justice reform

IN THE NEWS

Senate gun bill restricting bump stocks, trigger cranks faces House showdown

A narrowly tailored restriction that would keep bump stocks and trigger cranks out of the hands of most gun owners cleared the state Senate unanimously on Thursday, setting up negotiations with House leaders who a day earlier ushered through a broader ban on any device that could be used boost a weapon’s firing speed to mimic an automatic weapon.

The restriction on bump stocks and trigger cranks was included in a $128.8 million budget bill the state Senate passed and is needed before the end of the month to close the books on the fiscal year that ended July 1.

That bill could be headed for conference committee if differences can’t be worked out informally, threatening to delay spending authorizations over the gun issue. The topic of bump stocks – devices previously unfamiliar to most lawmakers – came to the forefront after the Las Vegas massacre on Oct. 1.

Democrat and Republican senators huddled for hours in the afternoon behind closed doors to work out the language of the gun-control measure, rewriting the House-backed ban on gun modifications to increase the firing speed of a weapon.

The final amendment filed by state Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Brookline, closely resembled a bill filed two weeks ago by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and would put bump stocks and trigger cranks – both clearly defined in the bill – in the same category as machine guns.

The measure stopped short of an outright ban because licenses could still be issued to own a bump stock to firearm instructors who train police, or to certified gun collectors.

Creem said she has filed “stronger” gun-control legislation that she hopes can be considered at a later date, and Tarr said he would have liked to have had a public hearing on the bump stock legislation before voting.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said senators “came up with some really good improvements” to the House gun measure, but he expects a public hearing on Tarr’s bill this week, which could further inform negotiations with the House.

“We felt that there needed to be a public hearing and opportunity for transparency. That hasn’t been able to happen yet. We felt we had to act today in order to keep this thing moving forward. But we also wanted to provide opportunity for the public to engage with us,” Rosenberg said after the session.

Gun Owners Action League Executive Director Jim Wallace had many issues with the House bump stock bill, but said even though the Senate bill was an improvement, the issue is far from settled.

“Our members are not going to be happy with the process of how this got done, but if you compare it to the insanity of yesterday, at least this bill is clear,” Wallace said.

State Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, who crafted the House bump stock ban, said Wednesday that he had concerns with the ideas adopted by the Senate Thursday because it creates a path to licensing bump stocks.

— Matt Murphy

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