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Massachusetts employer health insurance penalty set for repeal

Massachusetts employer health insurance penalty set for repeal

A Massachusetts health reform law board is scheduled Thursday to vote for the second and final time to repeal regulations relating to a landmark state statute that required employers to either offer health care coverage to their employees or pay a fine.

That vote by the board of directors of the Massachusetts Health Connector, which regulates key provisions of the state's 2006 health reform law, will bring to a final end a provision in that law that required employers with at least 11 full-time employees to either offer coverage or pay an annual $295-per-employee fine.

The catalyst for the board action was legislation Massachusetts lawmakers passed last year that formally repealed the mandate, known as the Employer Fair Share Contribution program.

“Given the repeal of the underlying statutes, the Health Connector's accompanying regulations no longer have legal force," stated a background paper prepared for the Health Connector directors prior to a preliminary vote in June in which the directors unanimously approved repealing the regulations.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick had sought repeal of the mandate, saying that it was no longer necessary to have such a requirement because of the subsequent passage of federal health care reform legislation.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and subsequent regulations, the federal employer mandate will go into effect in two stages.

Next year, employers with at least 100 full-time employees will have to offer coverage to at least 70% of their full-time employees or pay an annual $2,000-per-employee penalty. In calculating the penalty, an employer can exclude 80 of its full-time employees in 2015.

Then in 2016, the mandate will apply to employers with at least 50 full-time employees, with the 80-employee exclusion in calculating the penalty for not offering coverage permanently dropping to 30 employees.

In certain ways, the broader Massachusetts law was a model for the subsequent federal health care reform law, such as making state premium subsidies available to the lower-income uninsured to purchase coverage through a state health insurance exchange.

Its 2006 law is a key reason Massachusetts has had over the last few years the lowest uninsured rate — 4.1% in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — of any state.

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