For Immediate Release:
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
María R. González Albuixech
Health Care For All | Communications Director
COMMITTEE HEARS FROM ADVOCATES ON THE NEED TO ADDRESS HEALTH CARE AFFORDABILITY AND EQUITY IN THE WAKE OF THE PANDEMIC
Consumers, small businesses, physician leaders and lawmakers offered testimony before the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing in support of legislation to make health care more affordable and equitable
(Boston, MA) – Today Health Care For All, along with consumers, small businesses, physician leaders and advocates, provided oral testimony in support of the More Affordable Care (MAC) Act (H.1247/S.782). This legislation aims to make health care more affordable for individuals, families and small businesses by reducing financial barriers to care, including co-pays and deductibles, and lowering insurance premiums.
More than a quarter of Massachusetts residents go without necessary medical or dental care every year due to cost, despite the fact that most have health insurance coverage. Massachusetts’ consumer costs – co-pays, deductibles and insurance premiums – continue to rise year after year, growing twice as fast as overall health costs in some recent years.
“Residents in Massachusetts continue to face the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic – family budgets are strained, access to health care is critical, and businesses need relief from rising health care costs,” said Representative Christine Barber, who is the lead sponsor of the bill in the House. “The More Affordable Care Act would address these issues of health care affordability to ensure individuals and families can access the care they need.”
Over the past nearly two decades, the average cost of a family premium in the state nearly tripled. Given this data, it’s not surprising that two-thirds of Massachusetts residents identified lowering health care costs as their top priority for state policymakers, according to a January 2021 poll by the MassINC Polling Group.
“This year alone, my monthly premiums went up by almost 20 percent—an additional $94 dollars a month,” said Adam, a Brookline resident who called Health Care For All’s HelpLine. “Even with the premiums I pay, the plan I purchased left me responsible for thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs, which left me trying to manage my budget instead of my health.”
A recent survey from Small Business for America’s Future also found that more than one third of small businesses providing health coverage to employees have held off on hiring a new employee as a result of their rising health care costs. The same group found in February that more than half – 55% – of small business owners said the cost of providing health insurance to employees was their biggest challenge.
“Small businesses suffered as a result of the pandemic, and the cost of health care makes rebuilding even more challenging,” said Senator John Keenan, the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate. “Small businesses should not have to choose between hiring new employees or providing health insurance coverage for current employees.”
“We have heard from so many small businesses about the increasing burden of trying to offer health insurance coverage to their employees,” said Pooja Paode, Associate Director of Cambridge Local First. “Health insurance costs for small businesses continue to rise year after year, and as they are trying to build back from the pandemic, health care could be the breaking point for many.”
“As we transition as an economy and a thriving workforce, it is key that our employers and employees be provided affordable health care options that can better prepare our communities of all backgrounds for any future unprecedented matters and health crises,” said Jessica De Jesus Acevedo, owner of Little Star of Ours daycare in Cambridge.
Health care affordability is fundamentally an issue of health equity. Black and Latinx families are more likely to report having unmet needs for medical or dental care than white families. Black and Latinx families are also more likely to report challenges paying medical bills. The pandemic unmasked the devastating and deadly impact of these health disparities – communities of color and low-income communities who have faced greater barriers to accessing care for many years were more likely to contract, be hospitalized for and die from COVID-19.
“I pay $260 a month for my health insurance plan, even with subsidies,” said Ricardo, a former Uber Driver from Dracut. “I chose the least expensive plan available to me, even though it requires a lot of out-of-pocket costs to get care, because I can’t afford to pay higher premiums for a plan with better coverage.”
“As Massachusetts builds back from the COVID crisis, we must learn the lessons of the pandemic and seek to make our health care system more equitable, accessible and affordable,” said Alex Sheff, Co-Director of Policy and Government Relations at Health Care For All. “People shouldn’t face financial barriers to accessing treatments that keep their chronic conditions in check, and they shouldn’t have to choose between picking up a prescription and paying the rent.”
Cost-sharing in particular is a significant barrier to care for many, with 35% of respondents in a recent report published by the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) citing the cost of co-pays and coinsurance as the top issue. Out of the people surveyed, 24% listed the cost of deductibles as key reasons for forgoing care. In addition, another CHIA report found that one in six residents who were insured had medical debt and had to pay off those outstanding bills over time.
“I increasingly hear from colleagues across all specialties who see patients forgo essential care because of unreasonable out-of-pocket costs,” said Dr. Carole Allen, President of the Massachusetts Medical Society. “This leads to preventable sickness and suffering, and avoidable exacerbations in sickness and in costs of care.”
The More Affordable Care (MAC) Act (H.1247/S.783) introduced by Representative Christine Barber and Senator John Keenan would address the costs consumers and small businesses face through rising out-of-pocket costs and premiums. This legislation would make certain medications and treatments for several chronic conditions that disproportionally impact communities of color and low-income communities free of charge. The MAC Act would also create a program to lower health insurance premiums for individuals and small businesses, as well as promote transparency for health insurance cost increases.