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Massachusetts Health Reform: Employers, Lower-Wage Workers and Universal Coverage

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Abstract:

As Massachusetts' landmark effort to reach nearly universal health coverage unfolds, the state is now focusing on employers to take steps to increase coverage. All employers—except firms with fewer than 11 workers—face new requirements under the 2006 law, including establishing Section 125, or cafeteria, plans to allow workers to purchase insurance with pre-tax dollars and paying a $295 annual fee if they do not make a “fair and reasonable” contribution to the cost of workers' coverage. Through interviews with Massachusetts health care leaders (see Data Source), the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) examined how the law is likely to affect employer decisions to offer health insurance to workers and employee decisions to purchase coverage. Market observers believe many small firms may be unaware of specific requirements and that some could prove onerous. Moreover, the largest impact on small employers may come from the individual mandate for all residents to have a minimum level of health insurance. This mandate may add costs for firms if more workers take up coverage offers, seek more generous coverage or pressure employers to offer coverage. Despite reform of the individual and small group markets, including development of new insurance products, concerns remain about the affordability of coverage and the ability to stem rising health care costs.