- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

BOSTON, April 17 (UPI) — Health care advocates rallied Thursday to protest proposed changes in the Medicaid program in Massachusetts.

Republican Gov. Mitt Romney has said he expects the reforms to generate $500 million in savings next year, when the state faces a $3 billion budget deficit.

Critics, however, warn the changes would have "devastating effects."

The Health Care For All advocacy group, sponsoring a rally at the Statehouse, urged tax increases instead of program cuts.

If the changes are approved by the Legislature, advocates warned that more than 30,000 people could lose their coverage, poor people could see their access to prescription drugs limited, and those covered by Medicaid would have to pay new fees.

The Medicaid overhaul proposal is part of Romney's overall plan to restructure state government.

The House Ways and Means Committee announced Wednesday it would go along with some of Romney's proposed reforms, including the suggested Medicaid changes.

Democratic state Rep. John Rogers, committee chairman, said the budget to be presented to the House next week would also include Romney's proposals to restructure the state's health and human services agency and do away with the Metropolitan District Commission.

The functions of that much-criticized agency, which oversees parks, woodlands, beaches, swimming pools and skating rinks in the greater Boston area, would be shifted to the Department of Environmental Management.

While saying the House budget would include some of Romney's "good ideas," Rogers said the money saved would be far less than what the governor has predicted.

"The reforms that we are embracing," Rogers said, "we can't associate with them major cost savings."

Romney, who has accused legislative leaders of blocking his restructuring proposals, welcomed the Ways and Means report.

"The idea that they are looking aggressively at reforms is very encouraging," he said.

Rogers also said the House budget proposal would not include tax hikes.

In New Hampshire, the House Wednesday took up several budget proposals, including one that calls for a 39-cent increase in the cigarette tax to pay for $90 million in increased spending.

Gov. Craig Benson has vowed to veto any tax hike.

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