New regulations slated to take effect in January threaten all the progress and the burden on businesses could negate many of the gains the health care law has made.

Massachusetts first-in-the-nation mandate for health care coverage has done much to bring nearly a half-million people onto the rolls of the insured.


But new regulations slated to take effect in January threaten all the progress and the burden on businesses could negate many of the gains the health care law has made.


Commonwealth Connector, the authority charged with overseeing and regulating the state health plans for previously uninsured residents, has ordered all plans to carry prescription drug benefits. In addition, officials have decreed plans with high copays and deductibles will no longer meet “minimum creditable coverage.”


While the goal is laudable, the costly fallout from these changes could cause companies who had bought into plans for previously uninsured employees to drop coverage and end up costing those employees more in the long run.


A report released last month shows that 439,000 Massachusetts residents previously uninsured have enrolled in health care plans since the law was enacted in 2006, including 191,000 who are now enrolled in private coverage plans.


Many of these are workers under 30 years old who previously had not bought coverage because they bet their relative youth and healthy lifestyles would guard against the need to pay high premiums.


These are just the kinds of people a low-premium, high deductible plan was designed for. In the private sector, some employers contract with health insurers for these plans as a way to combat the high cost while still being able to offer their workers affordable coverage. And all of these plans meet federal standards.


If the state mandate eliminates these types of plans as inadequate, businesses could opt to drop the coverage and pay the $295 per worker penalty instead and those workers would then likely revert to their old ways of choosing no coverage rather than over-coverage.


Similarly, the drug benefit is one not everyone needs. Surely, people on fixed income and those with life-threatening and debilitating diseases need access to drugs but they need not be a requirement for those who, at most, buy over-the-counter medications to deal with everyday maladies.


Perhaps if Connector officials want to change minimum standards, they can look at the state’s own Commonwealth Choice “bronze” package, which offers coverage with low premiums and high copays. Those standards could be written into the health care law.


The changes come at the same time the Patrick administration is instituting $33 million in further assessments on businesses and health plan providers to help cover the growing deficit in the law.


The pioneering health care law did much to bring reluctant businesses to the corporate responsibility table, as evidenced by 72 percent of the state’s employers now offer health insurance, compared to the national average of 60 percent.


We are a model for the nation and while the law is still a work in progress, draconian changes that place undue burdens on companies would retard much of the good work already done.


The Patriot Ledger