July 21, 2022 – On Sunday, the Massachusetts legislature released their agreed-upon state budget for 2023 – including Health Care For All (HCFA)’s three key priorities that will support Massachusetts residents and address health disparities. We were thrilled to see the legislature invest in the health care needs of Massachusetts families, especially as many are struggling financially from growing inflation and the lingering effects of the pandemic.

The budget includes funding for HCFA’s free consumer HelpLine, authorizes a two-year pilot program to expand access to the state’s low-cost “ConnectorCare” insurance plans, and establishes an oral health commission in charge of conducting a study on the state’s oral health needs in order to address disparities in dental health.

$300,000 invested in free health care HelpLine

The HCFA HelpLine takes over 23,000 calls a year, helping Massachusetts residents enroll in coverage and navigate the health care system. This past year, the HelpLine used state funding to add Haitian Creole and additional Portuguese-speaking counselors. Residents can now get help from counselors in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole and French.

The $300,000 allocated by the state legislature for the 2023 budget year will allow the HCFA HelpLine to maintain language capacity and continue to assist consumers with complex health insurance issues. The HelpLine will be as important as ever in the upcoming year. Once the COVID-19 public health emergency ends The HelpLine also receives referrals from health clinics and state abortion funds and anticipates increased calls navigating abortion access and reproductive care in the wake of the Roe v Wade reversal.

Low-cost ConnectorCare plans expanded to additional 37,000 residents

Despite high rates of insurance coverage in Massachusetts, data shows 41% of families had trouble affording health care this past year. The state legislature has taken a bold step towards addressing these cost concerns by approving an innovative two-year pilot program that will increase the number of residents eligible for the state’s subsidized health insurance program, known as ConnectorCare. The program will give more middle-income families and workers access to insurance with reduced premiums, co-pays and deductibles.

Low-cost ConnectorCare plans, which are currently are only available to individuals and families under 300% of the federal poverty level (FPL), will now be available to residents up to 500% FPL—about $68,000 a year in income for an individual, and $139,000 for a family of four. An estimated 37,000 Massachusetts residents will be newly eligible for these low-cost plans. This pilot program will mark one of the largest expansions of health care coverage in the state since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014. It also builds on Massachusetts’ role as an innovator in health care, and can help serve as a model for other states.

Oral Health Commission to assess state’s dental health needs

Legislators have also taken a critical step towards addressing persistent oral health disparities in Massachusetts by establishing an Oral Health Commission in charge of conducting a long-overdue review of the state’s dental health needs and providing recommendations to improve access to affordable, equitable oral health care. Dental treatment is the top category of care that Massachusetts residents report forgoing due to cost, and low-income residents and residents of color are more likely to have unmet dental needs.

Despite the documented dental access challenges, Massachusetts’s oral health data is extremely outdated. The work of this commission will be to gain a clearer picture of the state’s oral health inequities across race, age, income, insurance status and geography in order to develop solutions to addressing disparities. The commission will be made up of a diverse group of dental health professionals, public health experts and community leaders from across the state and will use the data from the study to put forth policy solutions.

These health care priorities, along with the rest of the FY23 budget has now moved to the Governor’s desk. We urge the Governor to sign the budget and maintain these policies to improve health care for Massachusetts residents. While there is still more to be done to address health care costs, the FY23 budget represents a significant commitment to increasing access to affordable, quality health care in the Commonwealth.

Grace Jurkovich is a policy & project coordinator at Health Care For All