Massachusetts committee releases health care bill


By

July 31, 2012 • Reprints

BOSTON (AP)Massachusetts House and Senate negotiators have filed the final version of a bill they say will save up to $200 billion in health care costs over the next 15 years and help guarantee the future of the state’s landmark 2006 health care law.

The bill rejects a proposed “luxury tax” for hospitals that charge more than 20 percent above the state median price for a service, but includes $135 million in grants to help community hospitals make the transition to new electronic medical records systems.

Another goal of the bill is to allow residents better access to their own medical records and cut down on unnecessary and expensive repeat medical testing.

Sen. Richard Moore, an Uxbridge Democrat and one of those working on the final bill, said another top aim of the bill is to set a cost growth goal close to the state’s rate of inflation, far less than current year-to-year increases in insurance and medical costs.

“I think it’s a very good bill,” Moore said.

The bill would also encourage the creation of so-called “accountable care organizations” — health care networks that take a more coordinated approach to medicine. There are already five accountable care organizations in Massachusetts.

Such organizations are considered key to the transition away from more piecemeal medical care that rewards doctors for each test or procedure to care that looks at the entire patient and the best way to maintain overall health.

Rep. Steven Walsh, D-Lynn, also worked on the final version of the sweeping bill and said he’s confident it will benefit patients, health care providers and business — which could see a reduction on the cost of health premiums.

He said the bill should also win the approval of Gov. Deval Patrick, who has made health care cost control a top priority.

“I’m very confident that the governor will sign this,” Walsh said, noting that every member of the conference committee working on the compromise legislation — both Democratic and Republican members — signed off on the final bill.

Patrick told reporters mid-afternoon on Monday, that he hadn’t seen the final language of the bill but that the administration was working closely with the conference committee charged with drafting the final bill.

The 342-page bill, which was filed late Monday, is expected to be voted on Tuesday, the final day of the Legislature’s formal session.

That decision to wait until the absolute last minute before releasing the final version of such a complicated piece of legislation irked some lawmakers, even some on those on the conference committee.

“I have a lot of concerns,” Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican who also sat on the committee, said just hours before the final bill was filed. “I have concerns about being able to understand what’s being put before us, not from an intellectual standpoint, but just from a substantive standpoint.”

One of the most contentious proposals was the “luxury tax” aimed at addressing the wide price differences that hospitals charge for the same operation or procedure in Massachusetts.

The House version of the bill included the tax which essentially targeted bigger name Boston hospitals that can charge more than 20 percent above the state median price for a service.

Under the proposal, those hospitals would be levied a 10 percent surcharge that would go into a fund to help support hospitals serving the poor and most vulnerable. The proposal, which did not appear in the Senate version of the bill and came under fire by those hospitals, was dropped from the final bill.

But Walsh was quick to point out that the final bill included help for community hospitals.

The bill takes other steps to control costs.

It expands the role of physician assistants and nurse practitioners to act as primary care providers to guarantee access to more affordable care and creates a new “wellness tax credit” for businesses that adopt programs to combat preventable chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and asthma.

The bill also seeks to control medical malpractice costs by creating a 182-day “cooling off” period to give both sides a chance to negotiate a settlement, and bans the use of mandatory overtime for nurses in hospitals except in emergency situations.

By trying to bring spiraling insurance and other health costs under control, the bill seeks to help ensure the success of the Massachusetts health care law signed in 2006 by then-Gov. Mitt Romney.

That law — which became the blueprint for the federal health care law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010 — expanded access to health coverage in Massachusetts, but did little to rein in premiums and other health care costs that have threatened to undermine its long-term fiscal stability.

___

Associated Press Writer Shannon Young contributed to this report.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s