Massachusetts health officials face an early July deadline to prove that their new plan to develop a functional online health insurance enrollment portal can be operational by the fall, or else the state could be forced by the Obama administration to join the federal exchange for at least a year. In response to the deeply troubled rollout of the state's online health marketplace, Gov. Deval Patrick and his team developed a dual-track strategy to try for a second time to build a state-based exchange with an off-the-shelf software product made by Virginia-based hCentive. Health Connector officials since early May have been simultaneously preparing to the join the federal web exchange as a backup plan in case the hCentive solution would not be operational by the fall. "Every day we know that the key risk area is the aggressive timeline," said Maydad Cohen, the governor's former deputy chief of staff who recently took over the exchange project from Sarah Iselin, who returned to her job at Blue Cross Blue Shield after developing the strategy for the Patrick administration. [Story Developing] - M. Murphy/SHNS


The Massachusetts Senate appears poised to advance legislation pushed by comedian Bill Cosby that would protect celebrities' images after they die if they live in Massachusetts. Melinda Phelps, an attorney for Cosby, told lawmakers during a hearing last year that the well-known star wants to make sure celebrities who live in the Bay State have post-mortem protections for their images to prevent them from being commercially exploited. In advance of Thursday afternoon's formal session, the Senate Ways and Means Committee released the latest version of the bill (S 2022), which repeals laws governing unauthorized use of a person's name or image and establishes a "right of publicity" property interest that would cover the name, likeness, voice or signature of a person whose identity has commercial value, with the property interest applicable throughout a person's life and for 70 years after the date of their death. Under the bill, the property right could be conveyed to others. The Cosbys live in Shelburne Falls in western Massachusetts. Under current state law, anyone who wants to use the portrait or picture of a person for use in advertising or "purposes of trade" must have written consent from the person whose likeness is being used. But the law is "silent" about what happens after the celebrity dies, attorneys said at the May 213 hearing. Bill Hart, a Cosby attorney, testified that if someone decided to sell "soap on a rope" with Cosby's face on it while he was alive, he could stop them. "The day after he dies, they could put it into production and start marketing it," Hart said. Sen. Stanley Rosenberg has been pushing for the bill's passage. - M. Norton/SHNS


The campaign seeking to put a higher minimum wage on the November ballot on Thursday called a legislative compromise setting a nation-leading $11 wage floor a "positive step." Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of labor, religious and community groups, has been advancing a plan to raise the state minimum wage to $10.50 per hour by 2016. The House-Senate compromise, released Wednesday night with unemployment insurance reforms attached to it, would increase the $8-an-hour minimum wage, last changed in 2008, to $11 by January 2017. "Giving Massachusetts the highest minimum wage in the country would help more than a half a million families who deserve to earn fair wages," Steve Crawford, a spokesman for Raise Up Massachusetts, said in a statement. "The compromise minimum wage proposal released by the conference committee is a positive step that would increase the minimum wage by 30 percent and have a major impact on the Massachusetts economy." Crawford said the ballot group hasn't seen the full details of the proposal, "and it would need to pass and be signed by the Governor before our signature gathering deadline in order for us to consider withdrawing our ballot question. Meanwhile, we will continue our final round of signature collection." The final round requires 11,485 signatures by early July. The Legislature's plan does not index the minimum wage to inflation, as the ballot question would do. It also does not cut unemployment insurance benefits or the duration of those benefits, a stance favored by leaders of the ballot effort. The group is also pushing to place an earned sick time proposal on the November ballot, and legislative leaders have given no indication that they plan to advance a bill on that topic. - G. Dumcius/SHNS