Gov. Deval Patrick

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As Nation Braces For Obamacare, Mass. Tackles Health Costs

If for some reason you’re not already drowning in the rough waters of U.S. health policy — what with the Affordable Care Act’s health exchanges launching today and Congress and President Obama still duking it out over the four-year-old law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court — well, you’re in luck. Because in the midst of all this Obamacare angst and government shutdown, our fair state this week kicks off the Oscars of health wonkdom, aka, the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission’s Annual Health Care Cost Trends Hearing.

It’s a time for state health care officials and bureaucrats to conduct a little reality check with insurers, hospitals, businesses and consumers to ensure that everyone’s making a good-faith effort to hold down medical costs.

Stuart Altman, economist and professor of National Health Policy at Brandeis University and chair of the board of the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, says the role of the commission is to keep all of the players involved in the health system accountable and sharply focused on driving down costs while improving quality. “We’re like a big searchlight on the system to say ‘Hey this is good’ or Hey, this is not good,” and then follow up, Altman said on WBUR’s Radio Boston Monday.

Gov. Deval Patrick

Gov. Deval Patrick

Here’s a little background on the hearings, to be held at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, from the state:

The cost containment law, signed by Governor Patrick in August 2012, empowered the Health Policy Commission with monitoring health care delivery and payment system reform and developing policies to reduce overall cost growth while improving the quality of patient care. The Commission is governed by an independent board of health care experts who will use the two-day hearing to examine hospitals, insurers and provider organizations about their work to meet the new cost growth benchmark (3.6% for 2013 and 2014), improve care coordination and provide consumers with price transparency tools. Market consolidation’s impact on the Massachusetts health care system will also be a hearing focus.

If you want to get a jump on the hearings, go wild and check out the pre-filed testimony here. Continue reading

Four Out, Four In As Patrick Overhauls Cabinet

(Updated at 7pm)

WBUR’s Curt Nickisch reports on the latest shake up in Gov. Deval Patrick’s cabinet:

The big rotation in the cast of Cabinet members in the Patrick administration is under way. On Thursday the Massachusetts governor saw off four of his top executives, and named each of the four new faces to replace them.

Gov. Deval Patrick did what governors do, no matter whether their top leaders are leaving under a cloud or departing the field after declaring victory. The governor said each of his outgoing Cabinet secretaries has his full confidence. He explicitly named JudyAnn Bigby, the head of the troubled Department of Health and Human Services.

“I think she’s been fabulous,” Patrick said. “And I would hang on to her if I could. But like I said there’s a lot of wear that goes into these jobs. She’s been here from the start. She’s done a remarkable job. And she goes with my blessing.”

Bigby, a physician, does leave with quite a legacy — implementing universal health care and seeing through a health cost control mechanism that could prove to be a national model. But those accomplishments have been buried recently by major problems at the state crime lab and lack of oversight of compounding pharmacies linked to tragic deaths around the country. If that weren’t enough, her department also has to oversee the introduction of medical marijuana in less than a month. Continue reading

Patrick To Business: Cut Health Care Costs Aggressively, Let Government Play A Role

Gov. Deval Patrick. (Photo: Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs/flickr)

For the first time since lawmakers in the Massachusetts House and Senate unveiled separate plans to cut health care costs, Gov. Deval Patrick is weighing in.

At a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast this morning, Patrick told business leaders that the state should set aggressive spending targets, let government play a role in keeping insurance premiums down, and not necessarily create an entirely new agency to oversee the new reforms. In making his case for government oversight as a way to counter a not-always-reliable marketplace, Patrick put himself at odds with several elements of both the House and Senate plans.

“Industry can do better than the GSP [Gross State Product],” he said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks given to WBUR. “I certainly could not imagine accepting GSP plus anything…”

Here is Patrick’s entire speech, as prepared for delivery, from his office:

Thank you very much, Paul, and good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

As I think about the last couple of times we have been together at a Chamber breakfast, I realize I often come here to talk about health care. It makes some sense to do so in this company. Health care reform is one of the most important public-private initiatives in recent Massachusetts history. Many of you helped create and now help sustain it, and all of you deal with the challenge of rising insurance premiums. So you will understand if I return to the subject again this morning, especially given the developments of the past two weeks – and the past two years, for that matter.

We have a lot to be proud of when it comes to health care reform. We started with the belief that health is a public good and that everyone deserves access to affordable, quality care. That, for us, is a basic value, an expression of the kind of Commonwealth we want to live in, meaningful enough to motivate a broad coalition of legislators, policy makers, business and labor leaders and patient advocates in 2006 to reform the way we access health care.

And that reform is working. Here are the facts:

Almost everyone has access. 98.2 percent of our total population is insured. 99.8 percent of children. While the national trend between 2006 to 2010 was going in the other direction, we increased the number of insured in Massachusetts by more than 400,000 people.
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