The Associated Press

Mass. Senate OKs Health Care Cost-Cutting Bill

BOSTON — On Thursday night, the Massachusetts Senate passed its version of a health care cost reduction bill aimed at trimming projected health care costs in the state by $150 billion over the next 15 years.

The Senate voted 35-to-2 for the measure after spending two days of debate on 265 amendments. It now goes to the House, which has proposed its own version of cost control.

“Massachusetts spends 15 percent more per person on health care than the rest of the nation and 40 percent of our state budget is spent on health care,” Senate President Therese Murray said in a statement after the vote. “This bill will reel in health care costs, without harming our number one industry or patient care, and remove a major roadblock to long-term job growth and essential investments in education and transportation.”

The Senate bill would limit future growth in health care costs to no higher than the annual growth of the overall state economy and create a new state agency to monitor spending.

It would require health care providers to disclose costs of services upon a patient’s request and encourage local health care providers to promote prevention of common illnesses. It would develop a process to track service price variations in which a commission would determine if the cost differences are valid.

The legislation also seeks changes in the current medical malpractice system by reducing unnecessary litigation and its associated costs through establishing a 180-day waiting period before both sides begin negotiations.

Among the amendments senators passed were the creation of a fund to improve and expand the ability of certain community hospitals to better serve those in need. Other changes to the legislation call for establishing both a residency grant program to finance primary care provider training at teaching community health centers and a commission to study the values of graduate medical education in the state and recommend a sustainable model for funding of such education.

During the debate, Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, praised the bill, which builds on the 2006 landmark universal health care law signed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney. Chandler said the country is watching to see what will happen in Massachusetts, as far as health care is concerned.

“It’s a brilliant bill because it’s an infrastructure bill. It’s a health care payment infrastructure bill, which provides us with a long-run, long-term approach to dealing with health care,” she said.

Republican opponents raised concerns over the costs of certain provisions, as well as over the role of the new state agencies that the bill would create. They proposed their own version of health care cost containment legislation in an amendment that failed to pass the chamber.

Senate Republican Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester spoke against the proposed new agencies and said some funding under the legislation would adversely affect businesses.

While similar in some respects, such as pegging annual growth in health care expenditures to overall growth in the state economy, the goals set by the Senate and House also slightly differ. For example, the Senate proposal would limit growth to the state’s Gross State Product (GSP), while the House sets a more aggressive goal of half a percent below GSP.

Earlier this week, Gov. Deval Patrick praised lawmakers for taking up such legislation, but expressed reservations on aspects of cost containment legislation, such as the proposal to create the new state monitoring agency.

He unveiled his own health care cost containment bill in February 2011.

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