Baker deputy taking long view on MassHealth sustainability

BOSTON, FEB. 12, 2015…..Gov. Charlie Baker’s health and human services chief is aiming to have a “sustainable” MassHealth program by fiscal year 2017, she said Thursday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who is preparing her fiscal 2016 budget proposal, noted that MassHealth spending between fiscal years 2014 and 2015 increased by 11 percent.

MassHealth is the state-federal Medicaid insurance program for low-income, disabled and elderly individuals and is the largest and costliest program in the state budget.

In a speech to business leaders last week, Baker said the program is experiencing 13 percent spending growth this year. The budget in fiscal 2015, which ends on June 30, rose to $13.5 billion from $11.9 billion in fiscal 2014.

“My proposal will probably be around 6 percent growth over ’15,” Sudders told reporters after a meeting of the board overseeing the Massachusetts Health Connector Authority.

Baker’s fiscal budget proposal is due by March 4.

“Our eye is on fiscal year 2017,” Sudders said. “We’re not going to slice and dice our way out of creating a sustainable MassHealth program.”

Sudders defined sustainability as “something that’s affordable to the Commonwealth and provides broad coverage.”

“I think we’re going to look at a different way to provide the coverage,” she said.

Sudders said the Baker administration will work with the Legislature on a plan to bring down MassHealth spending.

Baker this month asked for the authority to restructure MassHealth benefits in a proposal aimed at fixing a $768 million gap in the $36.5 billion fiscal 2015 budget. Lawmakers removed the provision from the bill expected to hit Baker’s desk late Thursday.

Groups that represent people who depend on state health insurance programs also objected to Baker’s request, saying the authority could “harm the people we serve.”

Sudders said officials aren’t seeking to change benefits but looking at a different delivery structure.

“As we look towards the future, what’s the future of health care? The future around health care is population health management, accountable care organizations, patient-centered medical homes,” Sudders said. “And that’s sort of where we want the MassHealth program to be heading.”

Sudders said Massachusetts officials will be eyeing other states’ efforts to reform their Medicaid systems, such as neighboring New York.

Redeterminations of eligibility should create “some savings” in the program’s budget, she said.

In unveiling his plan to fix the midyear budget gap, Baker, who started in the Corner Office five weeks ago, has pointed to the state going a year and a half without determining MassHealth eligibility as part of the failure to implement the federal Affordable Care Act.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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