Major Issues To Be Addressed

JULY 30, 2012: As formal activity in the 2011-2012 Legislative Session draws to a close this week, a flurry of activity on Beacon Hill will occur to resolve several major issues. Paramount among the remaining bills is a House/Senate Conference Committee report on Healthcare Payment Reform.

In the past few months, both the House and Senate passed legislation aimed at curtailing the rise in healthcare costs by changing the structure and process by which medical claims are billed and healthcare is delivered. This effort is viewed as the next major step healthcare reform in Massachusetts, which began in 2006 with the passage of the universal coverage law and insurance mandate under Governor Mitt Romney.

While Phase I was intended to insure all Massachusetts citizens – some 98% now do – Phase II is aimed at reducing and controlling future healthcare costs. The competing versions of the cost containment law have been locked in a Conference Committee for over two months, while negotiators attempt to reconcile the differences in policy.

House conferees are lead by Representative Steven Walsh (D-Lynn), chairman of the House Committee on Healthcare Finance. The House version of the bill relies on increased government oversight and regulation of healthcare providers to lower long-term costs, something that the healthcare community has opposed.

The Senate bill, while providing for an increased role by state government in cost containment, places more emphasis on the role of the private sector in reforming itself. Senator Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge) chairs the Senate’s Committee on Healthcare Finance.

Association officials are particularly interested in this legislation due to its potential impact on future healthcare costs, as well as its effect on overall healthcare quality and continued open access to providers. With a new round of public retiree healthcare reforms currently under consideration by a Special Commission, the success or failure to gain control over costs takes on added significance.

“There is a lot of pressure on the Healthcare Finance Conference Committee to get it right on this issue, which is why the negotiations have taken some time. As we’ve previously argued, the real solution to gaining control over healthcare costs is not the cost shifting we’ve seen in the past, where retirees are forced to shoulder increased copayments and deductibles,” explains Association President Ralph White. “If this is next reform is done right, not only will the healthcare providers themselves reduce future costs, but retirees will benefit from higher quality care.

“Reducing the need for duplicate tests and increasing the number of primary care doctors are just two examples of issues that will hopefully be addressed. Estimates suggest that healthcare inflation can be cut in half, if this reform is successful.”

Other areas of interest to the Association and its members under final consideration this week include legislation to reduce and monitor prescription drug abuse. This measure is aimed at addressing the overuse of narcotics, as well as other prescription drugs.

Members should be aware that while formal legislative activity ends at midnight on July 31, 2012, twice weekly informal sessions will continue through the first Wednesday in January, 2013, at which time the 2013-2014 Legislative Session will begin. Noncontroversial bills and other matters not requiring formal recorded votes can be acted on during informal sessions.