| BOSTON, July 31
BOSTON, July 31 Massachusetts lawmakers on
Tuesday are expected to vote on a sweeping bill aimed at
containing the growth of healthcare costs and supporting the
state's 2006 health reforms, which became a national blueprint.
The 350-page bill, which has broad support from businesses
and the healthcare industry, is being debated on the final day
of the legislature's formal session, and if passed would go to
Governor Deval Patrick for approval.
If passed, Massachusetts would become the first state to try
to limit how much providers and insurers can spend on medical
care, furthering the state's long history of healthcare
Central to the bill is a plan to save up to $200 billion
over 15 years by pegging the increase in healthcare costs to no
more than the rate of growth in the state's economy.
The bill also pushes the creation of "accountable care
organizations" designed to provide coordinated medical care for
patients in place of the traditional piecemeal approach.
"By paying for quality, not quantity, our state's healthcare
delivery system will be better and more cost-effective," said
Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director of the advocacy group
Health Care for All.
Healthcare spending would be capped at a growth rate no
faster than the state economy through 2017, and in the following
five years would be constrained further, to half a percentage
point below the growth of the state economy.
Massachusetts has been growing at about 3.7 percent in
recent years, faster than the United States as a whole. Until
recently, medical spending in the state was rising at almost
twice that rate.
Patrick, a Democrat, proposed some of the elements in the
bill in early 2011 as a way to urgently address spiraling costs
faced by state residents and businesses.
Massachusetts achieved near universal health insurance
coverage as a result of its 2006 reforms, spearheaded by
then-Governor Mitt Romney, now the Republican presidential
candidate, and the state's Democratic-controlled legislature.
The 2006 law features a mandate for most residents to either
provide proof of insurance or pay a penalty, and was closely
mirrored by President Barack Obama's national healthcare
Architects of the original Massachusetts law acknowledge
that cost controls were not a major part of original debate, as
the state concentrated first on expanding coverage.
Even so, Massachusetts healthcare premium growth has slowed
recently, helped in part by new agreements between insurers and
providers that have started to move away from the
Other provisions of the current bill include an additional
allocation for public health programs, community-based
prevention and wellness efforts aimed at preventable chronic
diseases, and reforms to medical malpractice laws.
The legislation earned the backing of the Greater Boston
Chamber of Commerce.
"It sets a goal for healthcare costs that builds on the
progress we've made ... while preserving the innovation that
drives our healthcare system," said Jim Klocke, the Chamber's
executive vice president.
Associated Industries of Massachusetts, an employer group,
said the bill was a first step toward "slowing the runaway
health insurance premiums that have impeded job creation and
economic growth for a decade."
The group had pushed for a more aggressive cost-control
target and greater efforts to root out wasteful spending.
"Controlling the cost of healthcare and health insurance
remains the single most important issue for Massachusetts
employers," said Kristen Lepore, vice president of government
affairs at AIM.
Amid the enthusiasm, the non-partisan Pioneer Institute said
the bill was flawed, at best, and would leave the healthcare
system burdened with more bureaucracy and costs.
"The legislation rehashes failed top-down strategies of the
past, putting government in the position of mandating outcomes
rather than creating incentives for individuals," said Joshua
Archambault, Pioneer's healthcare policy analyst.
The strategies for pegging the growth of healthcare costs to
the state's economic growth were unproven, he added.