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Coakley: State May Need To Step In To Control Health Costs

BOSTON — The public debate over controlling soaring health care costs continues.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Martha Coakley came out with a wide-ranging report (PDF) in which she found that changing the way we pay for health care may have little effect on reducing costs, unless we stop paying some hospitals two or three times more than others for the same tests or procedures.

There is a lot of talk about asking hospitals and doctors to manage budgets through so-called global, or alternative, payments. One of Gov. Deval Patrick’s top priorities is a bill that would compel this change. Coakley’s report says that prices must be controlled but questions whether global payments will save money.

Consumer advocates are worried about Coakley’s recommendation that consumers join limited network and tiered plans. Health Care for All Director Amy Whitcomb Slemmer says patients often don’t have the price or quality information that would help them make informed choices about

“We don’t know that consumers yet have the tools to appreciate what value they’re getting for their reduction in premiums or for changing the provider networks that they can be seen in,” Whitcomb Slemmer said.

If consumers don’t drive more competition among hospitals and physicians, Coakley said the state may need to step in.

“If the market itself cannot self-correct, then we think that it will be important for temporary statutory measures, we’re not saying what because we’re open to suggestion on that,” Coakley said.

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