The Obama administration has granted Massachusetts an additional one-year waiver from a key part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires Massachusetts to reduce from nine to four the factors used to calculate health premiums for individuals and small businesses. The transitional waiver, originally granted in 2013 and extended in 2014, gives health insurers until January 2018 to come into full compliance with the ACA, which requires that premiums be calculated based only on age, family size, geographic area, and tobacco use. The letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to Health Connector Executive Director Louis Gutierrez stipulates that small group insurers may continue to use two-thirds of the state's full ensemble of rating factors, including industry, group size, participation rate, until January 2017 when they must reduce the use of the state specific factors to one-third. Gov. Charlie Baker in late April requested an "indefinite extension" of the transition period, warning of "disruption" and "instability" in the marketplace that would result from fully phasing out the premium factors. CMS officials on May 26 agreed to just a one-year extension, and the administrations have spent the past three week negotiating the details of the transition.


"Protecting small businesses from massive insurance rate hikes is essential to making sure job creators continue to thrive here and I am grateful the Obama administration granted Massachusetts this flexibility," Baker said in a statement. The governor has also asked that Massachusetts be allowed to continue to limit the size of businesses that qualify for small group insurance to 50 employees rather than expand the definition to up to 100 employees, as required under the ACA starting Jan. 1, 2016. - Matt Murphy/SHNS


Rep. Claire Cronin (D-Easton) said the state should recommend to licensed family home day care providers that they carry liability insurance, but would not mandate the providers purchase it. Instead, if day care operators chose not to have coverage, they would have to notify the state, providing a reason, and also notify parents in writing and with posted notice at their facilities. "There is no mandate for insurance, just a posting," Cronin said Tuesday before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. "At a minimum, we are just looking to provide the transparency." Cronin was testifying in support of a bill she filed with Rep. Paul Brodeur (D-Melrose). Dino Colucci, a Milton attorney who has represented families of children who died at home day care operations, said the bill could encourage more providers to purchase insurance because parents would know clearly which facilities had coverage. "Required disclosure will remove the guesswork and educate parents on this important issue," he said. - State House News Service/SHNS


The union representing Massachusetts Department of Youth Services workers is calling for the establishment of a commission to look at ways to reduce violence in its programs, saying that efforts to address the problem with administrators have fallen short. "We have made some progress with safety, but it's taken a very long time," said Paul Faria, president of AFSCME Local 1368. Faria testified Tuesday in favor of H 111, a bill before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. It would establish a special commission to evaluate current practices within the department that are used during assaults on youth and staff members. Peter Forbes, commissioner of the Department of Youth Services, said the department has "forged a constructive working relationship" with the union workers and that it has measures already in place, such as a written safety plan and a safety committee. "In our work, we take safety very seriously," Forbes said. Senate Chairwoman Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster, suggested the state's trial court system be brought into the discussion because judges are the ones who place juveniles in the programs. "It just seems the people missing from this are the people sending them," Flanagan said. "We should probably be talking to them as well." - State House News Service/SHNS


Public state universities are taking a step towards performance-based funding as part of an accountability initiative aimed at closing achievement gaps and producing more college graduates. The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education on Tuesday approved a funding formula for nine state universities that will be applied to $5.6 million expected in next year's state budget. The funding is separate from the base appropriation for individual campuses. "This funding formula was developed at the direction of the Massachusetts legislature and with the close cooperation of and in consultation with the state university presidents," Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland said in a statement. "It will reward our public campuses for helping some of our neediest students earn their degrees, and it also will improve our ability to provide graduates who are ready for work in the knowledge-based industries that drive economic growth." Funds will be awarded based on a formula developed by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems that takes into consideration, among other things, five-year graduation rates, annual headcount, full-time enrollment, year-over-year increases in degrees awarded, and the number of students who reach 30 and 60 credit hours each year. Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts will be exempt from certain aspects of the formula that do not align with their unique missions, and will receive a "carve-out" of 5 percent of the total funds allocated, according to the board. - Michael Norton/SHNS


An environmental agency affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Lowell honored businesses, non-profits and local governments Tuesday that have helped reduce the spread of toxic chemicals. Gathered at the State House with lawmakers and Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Undersecretary Ned Bartlett, the Toxics Use Reduction Institute recognized some of the groups involved in pushing down those numbers. James Thomas Carnazza, a project manager with Full Circle Earth in Beverly, said the institute's assistance has helped his organization spread a message of using organic land management to "rise above the harms of pesticides into a safer and healthier world." Between 2000 and 2012, Massachusetts companies reduced total use of toxic chemicals by 23 percent, according to the institute. The Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act of 1989, designed to protect public health while enhancing business competitiveness, spurred the improvement by offering education and grant assistance through three state agencies. Honorees included the City of Springfield; the YWCA of Lowell; Allston Collision Center; Analog Devices Inc; ChemGenes Corporation of Wilmington; Columbia Manufacturing of Westfield; Franklin Paint Company; Independent Plating of Worcester; Ophir Optics LLC of North Andover; Shawmut Corp. of West Bridgewater; Stainless Steel Coatings of Lancaster; Vida Verde Women's Cooperative of the Brazilian Women's Group in Brighton, and Professional Wet Cleaning Workgroup. - STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE/SHNS