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March 23, 2017

Rosenberg 'can't even describe' impact health bill would have on Mass.

File photo "That kind of base reduction in federal aid, just is, I can't even describe - I can't even find a word to describe what that would mean to the state budget," Senate President Stan Rosenberg said Wednesday.

The financial ramifications for Massachusetts of a federal health care bill set for a vote in Congress Thursday left Senate President Stan Rosenberg at a loss for words.

Appearing on the Northampton radio station WHMP, Rosenberg said the American Health Care Act would deprive the state of federal dollars, leading to untold budgetary troubles on Beacon Hill.

Gov. Charlie Baker estimated this week that the House Republicans' bill to replace the Affordable Care Act would result in $1 billion less in federal revenue for Massachusetts in 2020, $1.3 billion less in 2021 and $1.5 billion in 2022, "with likely a greater annual impact in the years that follow."

"That kind of base reduction in federal aid, just is, I can't even describe - I can't even find a word to describe what that would mean to the state budget," said Rosenberg, who on Wednesday said he hoped to work with states "to get Washington to come to their senses about what they're doing here."

State revenue growth has been largely dedicated to the costs of running the state's Medicaid program. "There's hardly anything left, and if they cut at the level they're talking about in the federal government, there will be nothing left for anything else, and we won't even be able to cover the health care bill," said Rosenberg, who said Wednesday that state taxes would be a "last resort" to fill any budget hole left by reduced federal revenues.

Baker proposed a $40.5 billion state budget to lawmakers, who are reworking it with a goal of having a new budget in place by July 1.

Enrollment in MassHealth has surged to 1.9 million Bay State residents, and Rosenberg noted the Obama administration encouraged an expansion of enrollment in MassHealth, which provides health coverage for low-income, elderly and disabled residents.

The vote expected in the U.S. House Thursday will be a major test for President Donald Trump, who has promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which he described as dysfunctional, and for U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who shares the same broad outlook.

House Republicans argue the plan preserves patient protections, reduces taxes under the Affordable Care Act and targets Medicaid to work for "the patients most in need."

"Our proposal provides Americans who do not receive insurance through work or a government program with an advanceable, refundable tax credit so they can access a plan that's right for them - not one that's dictated by Washington," reads an information page from House Republicans.

"People will pay more and get less. There will be huge tax cuts for the rich," Congressman James McGovern, a Worcester Democrat, said on the House floor Thursday, urging his colleagues to "go back to the drawing board."

Congressman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Rules Committee, responded that Americans have given up on the Affordable Care Act.

"They gave up on it because after seven long years they understood, it simply didn't equal what they were sold," Sessions said.

U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark of Melrose said in an email Thursday that Republicans have promised that their Affordable Care Act replacement would provide quality health care at lower costs.

"That's simply not the case with TrumpCare," Clark wrote. "The Republican replacement plan raises costs for American families, will result in MILLIONS of Americans losing their insurance, and provides lower quality care -- all while giving massive tax breaks to the wealthy."

Rosenberg also said Massachusetts residents would lose coverage under the plan.

"Some number of people would lose their insurance here in Massachusetts. We don't have the exact calculation, but it would not be insignificant, and for those who lose it, it would be catastrophic because so many people are relying on our MassHealth program," Rosenberg said.

The governor also warned this week that up to $475 million in federal support for a health care waiver negotiated with the Obama administration appears at risk through the federal bill.

"If they don't fulfill that commitment, or even a substantial portion of that commitment, it's devastating to the state budget, because they asked us to expand the number of people covered," Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg told Boston Herald Radio Wednesday that during his trip this week to Washington, D.C. he focused on training and educating volunteers visiting Washington to lobby Congress with the goal of preserving arts funding. "I didn't actually go to lobby the members of Congress. I worked to help prepare the people to go and lobby and to teach them the art of lobbying and persuasion," Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg said he anticipates members of the state Senate may travel to Washington to lobby Congress.

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