Democratic AG Candidates Question Whether Partners Deal Will Cut Costs

Veronica Thomas
CommonHealth Intern

The two Democratic candidates for Massachusetts attorney general are united in their skepticism: They question whether the deal forged by current AG Martha Coakley with Partners HealthCare will succeed in containing costs.

On Tuesday, The Boston Globe hosted a debate between candidates Maura Healey and Warren Tolman, who will go head-to-head for the Democratic nomination in two weeks. While the candidates diverged on a majority of issues, ranging from sexual assault to smart gun technology, they concurred (at minute 34-36 in the YouTube video above) that the controversial Coakley-Partners deal aimed at regulating the expansion of Partners, the state's largest hospital network, may fall short.

Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi asked whether the proposed Coakley-Partners deal has "enough teeth for effective enforcement." Here are the candidates' responses:

Maura Healey, former Assistant Attorney General: There are aspects of this deal, Joan, that I am skeptical about. I actually had left the office at the time this agreement was done. But it's true, Joan, I was in the office. I oversaw, as Public Protection Bureau Chief, the teams that prepared the reports on transparency, and trying to point to what was driving up costs. And I oversaw teams that began this investigation that resulted in this proposed agreement. What I've seen, what I've read, gives me pause.

I mean, we all know we've done a great job here as a state in terms of increasing accessibility to care, increasing quality of care, but costs are key. And as AG, you need to do everything you can to put a downward pressure on costs, and so I have some skepticism about the proposed agreement.

Warren Tolman, former State Senator: So the big issue here, from my perspective, is the ability of this agreement to control costs or not.

My mom spent the last five and half years of her life in a wheelchair, in and out of a nursing home, and in and out of hospitals. And I watched as my dad — my mom and dad had raised eight kids and they grappled with these ever-increasing costs that are associated with Partners and with other healthcare entities.

So I'm very, very concerned about the impact of the ever-increasing healthcare costs and whether this agreement really does what it's intended to do in terms of curtailing those costs. That's the number one concern.

Number two, we have to push for transparency in health-care costs. The fact that it might cost two or three or four times [more for] the cost of one place to get an MRI as another place ought to be revealed to the consumer.

Finally, I look at this agreement, and I say, you know, we have a mental health and substance abuse crisis in Massachusetts. And I'm not sure we're doing enough to force this major provider, which has done some great things in this area, to do more in light of the fact that we have an epidemic.

If you're a woman in eastern Massachusetts, it is almost impossible to get a substance abuse bed on any given time. It's really difficult. And often, individuals, under Section 35, go to Framingham State Hospital. We've got to resolve these issues today and make sure that we deal with this crisis before it takes any more lives. In Worcester, in 2011 there were 11 fatal overdoses from opiates. In the last three weeks, there have been 11 fatal overdoses in Worcester. We gotta deal with it.



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