Mass. House Overwhelmingly Passes Its Health Cost-Cutting Bill

Last night, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed its version of what some call Health Reform 2.0 — its bill aimed at cutting health costs in Massachusetts — by an overwhelming 148 to 7. The bill differs from the Senate's, so the two bodies must now negotiate a compromise. WBUR's Martha Bebinger reports:

The House adopted dozens of amendments but did not make major changes to its health care costs and quality bill. At the request of public health advocates, the House moved $20-million from a charge on hospitals and insurers into a fund for healthy lifestyle programs. Rep. Jason Lewis says prevention is a critical part of controlling health care costs:

"This is all about transforming the health care system in Massachusetts from what I would call a 'sick care system' to a 'well care system.'"

[module align="right" width="half" type="pull-quote"]'The market is most certainly not working. The market is absolutely broken.' - Rep. Steve Walsh[/module]

But some business leaders say this charge is one of several in the bill that would increase — not lower — health insurance premiums. The Senate uses the same charge to fund the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund and imposes it for five years, much longer than the one year approved last night by the House.

And another report from Martha, about how hospitals are keeping a wary eye on the differing House and Senate goals for capping health care cost increases in the coming years:

The House and Senate agree on tying health care cost increases to the state's general economic growth, although the House sets a tougher initial target. Dr. Gary Gottlieb, president of Partners HealthCare, supports the idea of a target.

"I don't know what the right number is. I know that the notion should be that we should try to really be accountable on reducing the growth in health care costs," so that "health care costs won't crowd out other parts of the economy."

Many hospitals are worried about Massachusetts becoming the first state in the country to link health care increases to the Gross State Product. And there's one more twist. Some low cost hospitals say the target should be more aggressive for high cost hospitals.

And a bit more from Martha on cost-cutting:

The issue at the core of this debate is: How much should state government intervene to force hospitals, doctors and health insurers to reduce their costs? Many in the industry and some business leaders are urging the legislature to tread lightly. They say the market is already working ton bring down health care spending. But the lead author of the House bill, Rep. Steve Walsh, says:

"The market is most certainly not working. The market is absolutely broken. Health care costs have been rising at 6.7-8% annually over the past decade."

A Senate bill that passed last month is seen as somewhat friendlier to health care leaders than the House bill.

This program aired on June 6, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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