By HCFA’s Melissa Shannon:
The Romney Folks Tried to Own the Day, but the Consumer and Labor Reps Weren’t Giving it Away.
There was a lot of process, and not much substance in today’s three hour meeting of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Board. It was worth the trip in the rain to get a feeling for how things started. Some interesting things about the setting:
- The meeting was held in a sparsely furnished, windowless basement room. There weren’t chairs for most people who came. It wasn’t until the EOHHS General Counsel explained the open meeting law, and suggested chairs for the public might be an appropriate part of that “openness,” that chairs were provided There never were enough chairs for everyone despite plenty of space.
- Seats in the front row closest to board members were reserved for staff of ex-officio members. No seats were reserved for people to staff other members.
- Board members were arranged in a horseshoe with their backs to the public.
- Secretary Tom Trimarco, Board Chair, Secretary Tim Murphy, Connector CEO Jon Kingsdale and guest speakers were the only people formally introduced. If you haven’t been in this business for 20 years or didn’t Google everyone ahead of time, too bad for you.
- 100 people endured the rain, a long security line and a long wait for a chair. There were faces from across our health care “system”: providers, insurers, Medicaid MCO’s, GBIO, the House Health Care Finance staff, the legislature (Rep. Marzilli), the ACT Coalition, advocates, and reporters.
- Romney started by swearing in the members and telling his version of how we got to this point, quoting US HH&S Secretary Leavitt’s opinion that Medicaid, “is not a good insurance product, because it doesn’t include deductibles, co-pays and other forms of cost sharing.” He didn’t say this to start debate, but as something he thought we all agreed on. (We don’t, but the show goes on.)
- The jaw dropping moment came when Sect. Trimarco said the legislature’s failure to name 11 people to the board (they named 10) was an accidental omission of Sect. Murphy, whom he invited to join the table, noting that the administration would request Murphy’s inclusion as a technical amendment to Chapter 58.
- The first challenge to the Administration came when Chip Joffe-Halpern (the Consumer rep, Exec. Dir. of EcuHealth Care in North Adams and HCFA’s Board President) made opening remarks. Chip said he wanted full opportunity for public input, particularly around affordability standards and subsidies. He reminded the group of the key purpose of health insurance: “to reduce barriers to care and protect people from financial hardship in the event of an illness.”
- Celia Wcislo, from SEIU Local 1199 and the labor rep, followed stressing the need to ensure health care access for individuals and employers, both small and not-so small.
- Rick Lord, the business rep from Associated Industries of Mass., made a pitch for cost savings for small businesses and then it was back to the administration’s show.
- No other board members introduced themselves or shared their vision of the Connector’s role.
- Things remained smooth and boring through technical presentations until Jon Kingsdale described his vision for the Connector’s role. He showed a slide listing the Connector’s responsibilities, with a date and description for the Board to approve, review or oversee each item.
- Dolores Mitchell, Exec. Dir. of the Group Insurance Commission, interrupted with the first “hold on a minute, partner” moment of the day. She asked if they were statutorily required to approve something, shouldn’t they actually approve it and not just review it?
- Celia and Chip jumped in to voice their desire for substantive discussion on these topics, not just a reviewing role. No one used the word “rubber stamp,” but it was clear at least 2 to 3 board members have no intention to delegate their duties to the Connector staff.
- The Chair and other members got the message, vowed to heed it, and realized that meeting monthly wouldn’t fly either.
- A plan was made to meet every other week on Thursday mornings, starting on June 21st, with a promise that notice on the agenda would be made at least 48 hours in advance in keeping with the open meeting law.
We all headed back into the rain.