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Mass. Gov.: Freeze Unemployment Insurance Rates

By STEVE LeBLANC

BOSTON (AP) â¿¿ Gov. Deval Patrick said Tuesday he will file legislation that would freeze unemployment insurance rates for Massachusetts businesses and end parts of the state's landmark 2006 health care law that is at odds with the federal Affordable Care Act.

Patrick said the bill would freeze the unemployment rates for the fourth year in a row, saving employers another $500 million. Over four years the savings for employers would amount to about $1.7 billion, he said.

Patrick's bill would also eliminate the annual $295 per employee that businesses with 11 or more workers must pay if they don't make what the state determines is a "fair and reasonable" contribution to their worker's health insurance.

The so-called "Fair Share Contribution Program" was mandated by the 2006 state law, but Patrick said it overlaps with a provision in the federal health care law that takes effect in 2014.

"Our people need jobs and these further measures will help employers create those jobs," Patrick said in announcing the proposed changes.

Patrick's bill would also eliminate the state's Medical Security Program, which helps provide health care coverage to lower income individuals receiving unemployment insurance benefits.

Patrick said that â¿¿ like the fair share program â¿¿ the medical security program is no longer needed under the federal health care law signed by President Barack Obama.

The proposed legislation will also create what Patrick is calling an "employer responsibility contribution" that businesses will be required to pay into beginning next year. The money will go to help pay for subsidized health care for lower income residents, but will be less than the cost to employers of the Medical Security Program.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailer Association of Massachusetts, appeared with the governor and praised the changes. He said they were critical as the state tries to smooth out changes for employers as the federal health care law kicks in.

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