Mass. HHS Secretary Polanowicz On Cutting Health Costs, And More

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Governor Patrick swearing in John Polanowicz on Jan. 22, 2013. (Photo: Eric Haynes/Governor’s Office)
Governor Patrick swearing in John Polanowicz on Jan. 22, 2013. (Photo: Eric Haynes/Governor’s Office)

John Polanowicz, the Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services, joined WBUR’s Meghna Chakrabarti on Radio Boston yesterday to discuss medical marijuana, the high cost of care in the Commonwealth, and more. Here's a snippet on costs:

Meghna's question, lightly distilled: Before your current posting, you were the president of St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center — the biggest hospital in the Steward Health Care System, which has been pretty aggressive in trying to reduce costs. Massachusetts has academic medical centers that are gems in terms of medical research and care, but those top-tier hospitals tend to say that their prices need to be higher to support research, or care for those who can't pay. What do you tell them?

Polanowicz, excerpted:

We are one of the few states where we’re a little upside down in terms of where care is actually being sought. The vast majority of individuals in other states are not running to their academic medical centers for primary and secondary care. Absolutely going there for tertiary care and for some of the advances and frankly programs that we, as a Commonwealth, should be very proud of, that we have them here in Massachusetts.


I think that part of the issue is, and what I would say is, we have a lot of duplication of programs.  We have programs even within some systems, the same program almost across the street from each other...

I've said this to many of my former CEO colleagues: No one is going to want to pay us more for the things we are doing today, so we have to figure out ways to provide the care less expensively. Whether that’s through technologies, through reduction of testing, through reduction of waste.

...We need to figure out what businesses we need to be in and what not. Do we need five of these ultra-high -level services for the Commonwealth?

Meghna: Some would say that we do.

Some would say that we do. This is the interesting thing.  I heard it right after the Marathon. Frankly, we’ve all asked, do we need this many level one trauma [centers]…and on that day we did.  So if you need that capacity, the question is, if you can’t take it from there, then everything else you do has got to be run in a very fine way, in as most cost-efficient a way as possible.  Looking at how the organizations are structured, there are opportunities there.  It’s just, it’s hard to go after them.

You can find the full interview here.

This program aired on June 19, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.