BOSTON — A bill that could make Massachusetts the first state to guarantee health-care insurance for all workers survived a crucial vote Sunday and was expected to go to the Senate floor today.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved the bill unanimously on a voice vote at a special weekend meeting.
The measure, which is considered important to Gov. Michael S. Dukakis' Democratic presidential bid, would phase in employer-sponsored health coverage for all workers by 1992, with financial help and other incentives from the state.
An estimated 600,000 Massachusetts residents, or about 10% of the state's labor force, lack health insurance.
The proposal, written by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, uses such incentives as pooled coverage and tax credits to encourage businesses, particularly small ones, to insure their employees for medical costs.
An earlier version of the health-care measure proposed by Dukakis was defeated in the House after encountering opposition from many sides, including the health-care industry, hospitals and business groups.
Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Patricia McGovern said she won cooperation from hospitals and business groups as well as consumer advocates.
"We tried to use a positive approach, a carrot instead of a stick," the Democrat said. "Basically, there was a health partnership. We said to business: 'If you will insure your employees, we will help.' . . . I hope it will be a model for other states."
In another difference from the Dukakis plan, the bill proposes the state contribute money toward the insurance, she said.
State Funding to Grow
The plan would take effect in steps starting in fiscal 1989 at a cost of $696.5 million, expanding to $1.5 billion in fiscal 1993. Most of that money would come from business and individual contributions. The state would provide $27.8 million in fiscal 1989, a figure increasing to $163 million in fiscal 1993.
The voluntary incentives would begin in 1989. Businesses still not offering employees coverage by 1992 would be assessed surcharges.
Senate President William Bulger, a Democrat, said the bill would reach the full Senate today and that he believed it would win passage. He said the bill's strength lies in its support from so many disparate interests.
If the bill passes the Senate, it will move to the House, where its chances of success are in greater doubt, according to senators.