NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

May 15, 2014

House battles over Health Connector fiasco

BOSTON — The House passed a $144 million spending bill Wednesday anchored by $50 million to account for an explosion of patients enrolled in health coverage through the state’s Group Insurance Commission seeking medical services.

The latest midyear spending bill cleared the House 119-29 after lawmakers engaged in debate over the cost of the state’s failed Obamacare health exchange website, funding for local road projects and a Republican proposal aimed at protecting children born to drug-addicted mothers.

A Republican-led attempt to withhold funding for the Health Connector Authority until the Patrick administration provides a full accounting of the costs of the failed rollout of the health exchange website was defeated with only a smattering of Democrats joining in support.

House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey described the spending measure as a “bill-paying exercise,” but urged lawmakers that moving forward the Legislature should be “cautious” in its approach to spending for the remainder of the year in light of April revenues falling $107 million short of expectations.

The bill, which now moves to the Senate, includes $34 million for public bar advocates and $10.4 million for the Department of Children and Families.

Another $27.6 million was included to reimburse local school districts for students who enroll in charter schools. The additional money for charter school reimbursements fully funds the program at over $100 million. Supporters of lifting the cap on charter school enrollment hope it will ease concerns of opponents worried about charter schools draining resources from traditional public schools.

The additional funding for the Group Insurance Commission became necessary as enrollees in the GIC began utilizing services at a greater rate than anticipated, according to the Patrick administration. While the GIC was able to control costs during the recession, a senior budget official said more people covered through the GIC have been seeking out doctors and treatment as the economy recovers.

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