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Why Mass. Biotech Council Leader Supports Merger That Would Create Second Local Health-Care Giant

The entrance to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston is seen in 2014. (Steven Senne/AP)
The entrance to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston is seen in 2014. (Steven Senne/AP)

At the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio), we have been following the proposed merger among the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center system, Lahey Health, New England Baptist Hospital, Mount Auburn Hospital and Anna Jaques Hospital with great interest.

While hospital mergers may seem outside the realm of biotech, after much consideration and review we had to strongly support this proposal.

Here’s why: this new system shares our industry’s strongly held belief of putting patients first. Hospitals play a unique role in improving patient lives, but not just in the usual ways you think about.

Every day, cutting-edge biomedical research and development is happening in our state’s outstanding teaching hospitals. Five out of the top six independent hospitals in the country funded by the National Institutes of Health are in Massachusetts. Innumerable clinical trials that ensure breakthrough drugs are safe for patients across the country are held at our state’s top hospitals.

And lastly, more and more complex therapies — such as new treatments for cancer and even a cure for blindness — must be administered in inpatient settings.

If this merger is approved, this new system would have the opportunity to regionalize these services by sharing expertise and resources. That’s what we need – opportunity for patients to participate in clinical trials without having to travel to Boston; the chance for sick people to receive new, more advanced therapies at their community hospital instead of only in a Boston teaching hospital.

One of the main reasons we support this proposed merger and the creation of a new provider system is because it is comprised of a mix of academic and community hospitals, primary and specialty care providers as well as behavioral health and home care.

Building on the systems’ collective history to create a new model of care has the potential to fundamentally improve patient outcomes and the dynamics of our health care marketplace.

On a more macro level, we believe this merger is good for our state’s health care system.

MassBio represents more than 1,100 members. They and the broader life sciences community employ more than 90,000 people across the state. These employers are uniquely positioned to understand the challenges of the current health care system, especially the growing cost of employee health insurance.

And yet, despite cost pressures on employers and employees, the current health care market is fragmented, inefficient and, most importantly, does not provide for adequate price competition among health care providers.

At the same time, community hospitals, which are essential providers of high-quality, lower cost care where people live, are shrinking (or worse, closing) as they struggle with increasing expenses and flat reimbursements.

This is not sustainable. Failure is something that would harm us all. We need to find a way to preserve our top-quality system, while ensuring that everyone has access to this incredible care whenever and wherever they need it. We need transformative change that protects quality and also ensures that our patients and families continue to receive high quality care and see the fruits of medical research.

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Massachusetts has made extraordinary efforts to understand and address the factors driving our high health care costs, yet we are still second highest in the nation in per capita spending on health care. This is a real burden on our state, its businesses and people. As an industry, we must do more.

As one system, Beth Israel and Lahey can offer our patients, employees, businesses and health insurers high quality health care at a significantly lower cost.

As the process moves forward, those concerned that the new system might inadvertently drive patients to a higher cost setting can create checks and balances that hold the hospitals accountable to their vision for a lower cost option.

For example, the existing Massachusetts regulatory framework already has important safeguards in place to ensure both limits to the level of price increases that may occur as well as unprecedented transparency.

If successful in their effort to create a new model of care that keeps as many patients as possible in lower cost community settings and maintains access to the expertise of the academic medical centers for which our region is known, the new system will ultimately reduce Massachusetts health care costs without sacrificing access to care or the quality of care that patients receive.

That is a goal that MassBio is always in support of, and one that will ultimately lead to improved patient lives.

Robert Coughlin is President and CEO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.

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