Blue Cross plan shows reduction in spending

By Liz Kowalczyk
Globe Staff  

July 11, 2012

The largest private-sector effort to tame medical spending in Massachusetts appears to be getting results, as doctors who agreed to work on a budget have cut costs by using less-expensive imaging and lab companies and expanding office hours to reduce emergency room use.

Health spending for patients treated through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’ pioneering global-payment program grew more slowly in 2010 than for patients whose physicians were paid the traditional way — receiving a separate fee for every office visit, test, and procedure. At the same time, the 4,800 doctors in the program scored higher on measures of quality of care, according to research published Wednesday.

The study, led by Boston researchers and published online by Health Affairs, bolsters its proponents’ hopes that the approach will play a key role in controlling health spending. President Obama’s health care law establishes a similar budget payment program for Medicare providers, and Massachusetts lawmakers are pushing the same strategy in legislation they plan to finalize this month.

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