STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS - AFTERNOON EDITION - MONDAY, JUNE 16, 2014

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

LAWMAKERS PROBE COSTS, PUBLIC OUTREACH PLAN FOR HEALTH CONNECTOR FIX

Patrick administration and Health Connector Authority officials briefed a Legislative panel Monday on the latest efforts to right the state's insurance enrollment website. In a presentation similar to those given last week to the Health Connector Authority board, Gov. Deval Patrick's point-man on the website project Maydad Cohen detailed for the Health Care Financing Committee progress being made on the dual-track plan to either build a new website with software purchased through hCentive or to join the federal exchange by November. Officials have a deadline of early July to convince the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid that the hCentive reboot will be ready in time for the start of the next open enrollment period on Nov. 15, otherwise the state may be forced to join the federal exchange for a year. Administration and Finance Secretary Glen Shor also told lawmakers that no additional funding in fiscal 2014 would be necessary to cover the costs of temporary Medicaid coverage being offered to 227,000 people, but that expenses in the program for fiscal 2015 must be monitored closely going forward. So far, the state has paid $90.5 million in claims before federal reimbursement.


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Cohen declined to discuss the status of negotiations with former vendor CGI to sever their contract to build the website, but promised lawmakers budget updates as more detailed information become available. Cohen and Connector Executive Director Jean Yang also assured Cambridge Democrat Rep. Marjorie Decker that extensive outreach was being planned to both notify those on temporary coverage that their plans have been extended through December and to help them through the reapplication process this fall. "Their anxieties are high and have a lot less confidence than I do," Decker said. - M. Murphy/SHNS

BAKER TO JOIN GAS TAX INDEXING OPPONENTS

Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker will be the featured guest Thursday when proponents of a ballot question repealing the law indexing the gas tax to inflation hold a "signature celebration" and fundraiser. Ballot campaigns this week must turn in to local officials a second round of signatures necessary to ensure ballot access in November. Lawmakers, who last year spiked a minimum wage indexing plan from a bill raising that wage floor from $8 to $11 over three years, included the gas tax indexing measure as part of a larger package of new revenues approved last year to make investments in transportation. Critics of the measure say it locks in tax increases without requiring the Legislature's active consideration each time the tax is raised. In addition to the gas tax, the salaries of members of the Legislature are also tied to an income indexing measure intended to make sure legislative pay is adjusted every two years. Baker plans to join ballot campaign activists at 7 p.m. at the Lafayette House on Route 1 in Foxborough. - M. Norton/SHNS

PFIZER EXPANSION TOUTED ON LIFE SCIENCE LAW'S ANNIVERSARY

Patrick administration officials marked the sixth anniversary of the state's $1 billion life science law at the opening of a 280,000 square-foot Pfizer lab facility leased from MIT in Cambridge. According to the administration, Pfizer scientists plan to use the lab space for clinical programs in the areas of inflammation, immunoscience, rare disease, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases and neuroscience. Pfizer also operates a research and manufacturing site in Andover and its Centers for Therapeutic Innovation is in Boston. "Pfizer's unified presence in Cambridge reinforces our 15-year commitment to Massachusetts' life sciences community," Mikael Dolsten, president of research and development at Pfizer, said in a statement. "Our goal in Kendall Square is to nurture collaborative and innovative science that can translate into new therapies for patients. Our proximity to the scientific brain trust that exists in this area, with world-renowned academic, medical and research facilities opens endless possibilities to advance breakthrough therapies." The Patrick administration estimates the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center has invested or committed $535 million to date to fund research, company formation and growth, workforce development and infrastructure, leveraging an additional $1.5 billion from outside sources. - M. Norton/SHNS