Business leaders launch group to keep eye on health care costs

Just in time for the health care debate to return to the State House, a new business coalition has emerged that promises to be an advocate for employers on the issue.

The Employer Coalition on Health, which launched on Tuesday, will be led by Eileen McAnneny, who was president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation from 2015 through 2022. McAnneny also played a key role representing employers during the legislative debates that led to the state’s 2006 and 2012 health care reform laws, when she worked as a lobbyist with Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

McAnneny said she views the coalition’s mission as twofold: educating businesses about what’s happening with regard to health care policy on Beacon Hill, and conveying their concerns about the issue to state lawmakers and regulators.

“I think all [health care] legislation will be viewed through the lens of affordability,” McAnneny said. “It’s been an issue I’ve been involved with for a long time. I feel pretty passionate about it. The need to focus on affordability has become more apparent in the post-COVID era.”

Among the founding funders of this new coalition are Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, as well as the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, and businesses such as benefits consultant OneDigital and recycling company OPRSystems. They join around 10 other business groups and nearly 40 individual businesses as founding members. For now, McAnneny’s position as president will be a part-time role, but that may change as the coalition grows.

The launch of the employer coalition coincides with House Speaker Ron Mariano’s plan to advance a wide-ranging health care bill, with a floor debate and potential vote expected next week. Much of the House bill is aimed at avoiding a repeat of the crisis embroiling hospital operator Steward Health Care. (Steward filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Texas on Monday.) However, the House bill also tries to address some aspects of cost controls within the sector.

Eileen McAnneny.The Henry Studio.

Health care costs remain a hot-button issue in Massachusetts. A recent Blue Cross survey of Massachusetts residents found that two out of five respondents are putting off care because of the expense, a big increase from two years ago, while the state Health Policy Commission determined that health care costs have been rising at a much faster rate than state benchmarks allow. And a team at Boston University last month released a report showing health care costs are among the three biggest reasons people choose to leave Massachusetts, along with housing expenses and income taxes.

Does Massachusetts need another business coalition? McAnneny said many of the state’s business groups face an array of issues, so it makes sense to have one group that can dive deep on health care policy.

And Jon Hurst, the president of the retailers group and treasurer of the new coalition, pointed to another reason: Some of the larger business groups count health care providers and drug companies among their most important members.

“They get conflicted, so they take a walk on these issues,” Hurst said. “Nobody is out there advocating for fair [health care] costs, fair coverage. … You need a new voice that is unafraid to say the truth.”

This is an installment of our weekly Bold Types column, which runs in print every Tuesday.

Jon Chesto can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him @jonchesto.


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