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Proposal extends Mass. health coverage deadline


BOSTON--Massachusetts residents would have more time to obtain health insurance coverage that meets state standards in order to comply with a key portion of Massachusetts' landmark universal health care coverage law, under rules proposed Tuesday by a state regulatory board.

The Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector Board proposed pushing back the deadline to Jan. 1, 2009, from July 1, 2007, for state residents to have--or face financial penalties--health insurance that offers a minimum level of coverage as defined by the state.

Under the proposed regulations, residents still would be required to have health insurance coverage by July 1, 2007, the date set in the 2006 law, which imposes an individual mandate. But the coverage would not have to meet so-called minimum criteria until Jan. 1, 2009.

Board executives said a delay in implementing the effective date of when residents must be in plans complying with minimum criteria was needed to give employers more time to modify their health care plans so their employees would not be hit with financial penalties.

To avoid penalties, state residents, among other things, would have to be enrolled in plans that did not impose an annual dollar limit on covered expenses nor impose deductibles for in-network services no greater than $2,000 a year for single coverage and $4,000 a year for family coverage, with a $5,000 annual maximum out-of-pocket limit for individual coverage and a $10,000 annual maximum for family coverage.

Additionally, high-deductible health insurance plans linked to health savings accounts automatically would be considered creditable coverage.

After extensive public comment, the Connector board is expected to finalize coverage criteria by mid-June, said the board's executive director, Jon Kingsdale.

Separately, the board proposed that employers offer employees, including many part-time workers, the ability to pay health insurance premiums through pretax contributions. This requirement would kick in on July 1, 2007.

The 2006 law, which also imposes a $295-per-employee fee on all but very small employers that don't offer health insurance coverage to employees, is intended to enable Massachusetts to achieve near-universal health insurance coverage within a few years.