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Revised House Health Costs Bill Is Out

This is an updated version of the story. For more on the latest House bill and comparisons with the Senate version, click on the audio bar on the right.

On Beacon Hill, the House has made few changes to a health care cost control bill despite intense pressure from hospitals and some business leaders.

When the House released a draft of the bill earlier this month, critics said it would put the state's golden goose — its health care system — at risk. They objected to the health care spending target and to a penalty that expensive hospitals would have to pay if they can't prove they have higher quality. Rep. Steve Walsh said the spending target and that penalty are still in the bill.

"It’s a disingenuous comment to suggest that asking people to show their quality will kill the golden goose," said Walsh, the House point-person on the health costs bill. "We have the best systems in the world, I think they’ll continue to be the best but as President Reagan said, 'Trust but verify.'"

The House makes one significant revision in the bill. The new entity that would set guidelines and monitor compliance with required changes would be within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. But it would still be independent, as is the Group Insurance Commission.

Walsh won praise for his efforts to craft reasonable solutions from the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and the state's largest physician group, Atrius Health.

"We appreciate that the House leaders have demonstrated their continued willingness to listen to providers and other stakeholders in crafting this bill," said Gene Lindsey, president and CEO at Atrius. "We think that the revised bill will move Massachusetts healthcare in the right direction. Progress occurs when people are willing to listen to one another and try to respond to concerns. I think that's been the earmark of this process so far."

But the Massachusetts Hospital Association released a statement that highlights ongoing concerns about the House bill.

“MHA appreciates the willingness of Chairman Walsh and House leadership to listen to the concerns of the hospital community. This version of the legislation retains some important provisions supported by the hospital community and incorporates some important revisions, but we continue to hold major concerns about the House bill.
These concerns include:
• The creation of an enlarged state agency funded by providers and the separate imposition of millions of dollars in new taxes on providers - both seemingly in contradiction to the goal of reducing costs on the healthcare system;
• The lack of broad stakeholder representation on the new state oversight agency when those same stakeholders are responsible for carrying out healthcare reform efforts in the state;
• Extensive new and complex regulation of the healthcare system; and
• The establishment of a target for healthcare spending that is too steep and too fast to be reached without risking harm to the healthcare system and the economy.
To be successful, we believe that any reform proposal that’s enacted must continue to advance the substantial progress toward reform that is already being achieved, must embody a balanced partnership between government and healthcare stakeholders, must address the systemic challenges created by significant underpayment from government programs, and must strengthen both the healthcare system and our economy. With those principles in mind, we look forward to continuing our policy discussions with the House.”

Amendments to the bill are due by the end of the day on Friday. Debate is likely next Wednesday.

You can read the revised bill, released from House Ways and Means this morning, in its entirety, below:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/95297110/House-4172

This program aired on May 30, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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