Martha Coakley

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Judge Appears Skeptical About Partners HealthCare Deal

Outgoing Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, a key player in the Partners deal. (Steven Senne/AP/File)

Outgoing Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, a key player in the Partners deal. (Steven Senne/AP/File)

In a packed courtroom on the 10th floor of Suffolk Superior Courthouse, the question on the docket appeared to be a simple matter: Should a judge in the Business Litigation Division say yes or no to a deal negotiated between Partners HealthCare and Attorney General Martha Coakley?

In any standard consent judgment, the judge would default to the attorney general.

But again Monday, as she did in September, Judge Janet Sanders made clear she will not say yes, no, or come back with a revised deal until she understands the details and possible consequences. Sanders wants to determine if consumers and the state would benefit from Partners’ proposed expansion.

She asked dozens of questions that suggest she is skeptical. And at the end of the day, she and Coakley engaged in what came across as a politely combative exchange. More on that later.

For an example of Sanders’ questions, let’s take the price caps. Under the agreement, payments to Partners could not increase more than inflation for six-and-a-half years.

Would Partners still have the highest-paid hospitals in the state? Sanders asked.

Yes, probably, said the AG’s office, except for Boston Children’s Hospital. This agreement doesn’t claim to correct historical problems, said Will Matlack, chief of the AG’s anti-trust division.

What happens, Sanders continued, if Partners jacks up prices in year seven? By then, Partners will be even bigger, and could demand more money than they can now, she suggested.

That’s speculation, said the AG’s office. And it’s not reasonable speculation, said an attorney for Partners, because there are lots of dynamics that could change the market between now and then. Continue reading

Primary Cheat Sheet On Mass. Governor Candidates’ Health Care Positions

Judging by your presence at this url, you are, perhaps, not entirely indifferent to health care? And you may, in fact, live in the lovely Bay State, according to the results of an unscientific reader survey we did once. So, in case you plan to vote in the 2014 state gubernatorial primaries, we’ve compiled a health care cheat sheet. We requested brief position statements from the five candidates facing a primary contest. In alphabetical order, and with a link to the full campaign site on each name:

Charlie Baker:
Massachusetts had a health care system that worked, with nearly every citizen having access to the high quality care they preferred, but the disastrous Health Connector website launch and the burdensome federal health overhaul disrupted that for far too many Massachusetts families. As Governor, I will fight for a waiver from the federal health law to protect Massachusetts’ exemplary health care system. I have also proposed a plan to improve the quality of health care, increase transparency and reduce costs for families. My proposals will allow patients to act as informed consumers, prioritize primary care – giving patients with multiple illnesses better treatment – and protect Massachusetts’ health system from federal burdens.

Don Berwick:
Massachusetts needs a Governor who understands how good care could be, what better payment systems look like, and how to reorganize care with patients at the center. Don is a pediatrician and an executive who has spent 30 years working to make health care work better, at a lower cost. He is the only candidate for governor supporting single payer health care – Medicare for all. Health care is now 42% of our state budget, up 59% in the last decade alone. Every other major line item in our budget is down. Single payer health care would be simpler, more affordable, more focused on the patient, and it would be a huge jobs creator.

Martha Coakley:
As Governor, Martha will have three goals for our healthcare system: expanding access, maintaining quality, and driving down cost. She has already taken the lead on controlling costs, publishing a series of groundbreaking reports that shed light on the cost-drivers in our system, and going forward she will focus on investing in proven prevention, promoting the role of community health centers, and increasing transparency. She is especially committed to improving care for those struggling with mental and behavioral illness and substance abuse; she has called for higher reimbursements for community-based services, more coverage from private insurance, and incentives for greater coordination of care. She believes we must end the stigma associated with mental and behavioral health.

Mark Fisher:
Did not respond but his campaign’s Web page on health care is here.

Steve Grossman:
We need to revolutionize the delivery of health care services to reduce or eliminate health disparities, primarily by significantly increasing our commitment to and investment in community hospitals and health centers. We must also use every appropriate tool to rein in excessive price increases at our largest medical institutions that could severely undermine achieving the goals of Chapter 224. That’s why I oppose the Partners HealthCare deal Martha Coakley has negotiated, which according to the Health Policy Commission, would raise costs by tens of millions of dollars and harm Massachusetts families and businesses. As governor, I plan to lead a serious conversation with the people of Massachusetts concerning single payer as a vehicle for reforming our health payment system, a conversation that the Boston Globe described in its editorial endorsement of me as “precisely what’s in order.”

Note: We don’t include the independents because we focused on the candidates running in the primary.

In Public Comments, Partners-Coakley Deal Brings Praise And Protest

partners

Quite an “only in Massachusetts” moment.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft and leaders of Raytheon, Suffolk Construction and Putnam Investments have all filed letters in support of an anti-trust agreement that would not normally see the light of day before a judge approves the deal. The opposition includes public health professors, a group of top economists and politicians battling Attorney General Martha Coakley in the governor’s race.

This show of force is weighing in on a deal Coakley negotiated with Partners HealthCare. It would let the state’s largest hospital network expand its market power, but with constraints, some of which would last for 10 years.

Here, in the medical mecca that is Boston, health care is big business, an issue in the governor’s race and a top concern for consumers and employers who struggle to pay for it.

So the agreement is setting a new precedent for public scrutiny. Insurers, physicians and patients are poring through the document, line by line, to understand what it might mean for them and the future of health care in Massachusetts. AG Coakley is collecting public comments through September 15th. She’ll have a week to respond and then Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders has scheduled a hearing on the agreement September 29th.

In the first batch of comments out today, most of the supporters focus on Partners’ leadership in the medical community and don’t dive into the details of its alleged anti-trust practices and the proposed remedies. Opponents, on the other hand, plunge right in. Here are a some highlights:

The South Shore Hospital community has submitted at least a dozen letters in support of the agreement, which would clear the way for the hospital to join Partners. Weymouth Mayor Susan Kay applauds the AG’s “significant and even historic benefits for the acute care market place.” And Norfolk County Central Labor Council Secretary James Howard says “enough is enough.”  Please, Howard urges Coakley, “stop letting self interested parties hinder this process.”

I imagine Howard refers to the coalition of Partners’ competitors who say the deal will raise costs, but maybe he means Coakley’s rivals in the race for governor.  Democrat Steve Grossman calls the deal a failure that could “take us down the wrong path for many years to come.” And Don Berwick, who also faces Coakley in the Democratic primary, has submitted a petition with 456 signatures called “Block the Partners deal.” Continue reading

Judge Delays Review Of Partners HealthCare Deal

Update 6:35 p.m.: A judge has granted Attorney General Martha Coakley’s request for an extension. The comment period will now close Sept. 15, and Coakley will have until Sept. 25 to file comments from her office after seeing the full Health Policy Commission report. A new hearing has been set for Sept. 29.

Our original post continues:

BOSTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is asking a judge to postpone reviewing a settlement between her office and Partners HealthCare that would allow the hospital network to acquire three new hospitals.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (Steven Senne/AP/File)

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (Steven Senne/AP/File)

Coakley’s motion asks a judge to wait until September to hold a hearing on the deal, which aims to limit the market clout of the state’s largest hospital network in exchange for allowing it to acquire South Shore Hospital and Hallmark Health.

A spokesman for the attorney general says Coakley has seen findings from a preliminary review of the deal from the state’s Health Policy Commission, and she believes the court should consider the full report.

The statement reads in full:

Our office always retained the option to seek to renegotiate portions of this agreement as it relates to Hallmark following a Final Report by the Health Policy Commission.  After reviewing the preliminary findings by the HPC, we believe it is in the interest of the public and the parties involved to wait for the final report before any final consent judgment is considered by the court.

Continue reading

No Court Filing Yet In Partners Deal To Expand

WBUR’s Martha Bebinger reports that a negotiated agreement that would have let Partners HealthCare expand to include South Shore and three other hospitals is on hold.

Partners and Attorney General Martha Coakley had planned to file a deal in court Monday that the AG said would curb Partners’ market clout.

But a spokesman for the AG says “both sides are continuing to negotiate based on the agreement in principle announced last month.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (Steven Senne/AP/File)

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (Steven Senne/AP/File)

The deal would have capped Partners expansion through 2020 after the network, which is already the largest in Massachusetts, was allowed to add the four hospitals and 550 more physicians. Partners had agreed to limit reimbursement increases to the cost of inflation, also through 2020.

But the agreement was criticized by competing hospitals who said it would lead to higher costs. Insurers, consumer groups and employers have asked to review the details before a deal is final. The AG’s office says it expects to allow public comment, although it’s not clear how.

The parties have not set a new date for a filing a final agreement.

Partners Showdown: Hospital Coalition Wants More Scrutiny Of AG Deal

A group of Massachusetts health care providers is asking Attorney General Martha Coakley (who also happens to be running for governor) to make public details of a deal which will allow Partners HealthCare to acquire three hospitals.

WBUR’s Dan Guzman spoke with Tufts Medical Center CEO Michael Wagner, who says the deal would have a big impact on the state’s health care marketplace. “The concern is that Partners is a system that has currently three times of the size of any system in Massachusetts,” he said. “With the proposed AG deal, this would take it to four times the size of the next largest system.”

The coalition also includes executives from Beth-Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health. The deal, which would allow Partners to acquire three hospitals — South Shore, Melrose-Wakefield and Lawrence Memorial — in exchange for implementing certain cost-cutting measures, could go to a judge for approval as early as next week.

partners

Guzman also talked to Richard Copp, a spokesman for Partners, who said that for more than two years, there has been a process which has been transparent in the media and followed state regulations for this deal. Copp added that Partners believes the deal will result in more coordinated care and rein in cost growth for health care and that the health care system has followed the state process — there have been hearings and meetings, and Partners has followed the law.

Here’s the full press release from the coalition:

Healthcare providers across Massachusetts including Atrius Health, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Cambridge Health Alliance, Lahey Health Systems, Tufts Medical Center and other hospitals and physician groups have formed a coalition calling for a public process around the recently proposed settlement between Partners HealthCare and the Attorney General.

“Although we are competitors, we have joined together to draw attention to the threats posed to the Massachusetts healthcare system by the proposed deal between the Attorney General and Partners HealthCare,” said Howard Grant, JD, MD, president and chief executive officer of Lahey Health. “Members of the public, as well as healthcare providers, have received little information about this deal, though it will permanently transform how we deliver and receive healthcare. The proposal was crafted without the input of, or review by, the patients, doctors, nurses, caregivers, policymakers, employers, and other stakeholders who have worked so hard to reform the healthcare system.”

Coalition members yesterday delivered a letter to Attorney General Martha Coakley outlining concerns about the “significant and deleterious impacts” the proposed deal would have on the “entire Massachusetts marketplace” and raising questions about why the settlement proposal bypassed the Health Policy Commission’s Market Impact and Cost Review process. Continue reading

Restraining Partners? Rampant Speculation On A Deal In The Works

What’s up with that Partners-South Shore deal?

This question has come up in every conversation about hospitals in Massachusetts for the past three to four months, at least.  It’s important because the final resolution will be a benchmark for future hospital mergers, acquisitions and partnerships in Massachusetts and beyond. And it may finally address complaints that Partners Healthcare hospitals and doctors are paid more, in some cases much more, than most of their competitors.

If you’ve (understandably) lost track, here’s a recap:

partnersPartners announced plans to acquire South Shore Hospitals in June 2012.

The state’s Health Policy Commission concluded the deal would increase costs $23-$26 million a year.

Partners countered, saying that adding South Shore to its network, currently the largest in the state, would save $27 million a year.

The commission stuck to its original findings and sent a report to Attorney General Martha Coakley.  She, along with the U.S. Department of Justice, have been looking at whether Partners exploits its size and market clout to drive up health care prices and all of our premiums.

There are lots of theories about why we haven’t heard anything since Coakley acknowledged in March that she was in talks with Partners and South Shore.  Is there an impasse?  Are federal regulators clogging up the works?  What kind of pressure is Coakley (who is also running for governor) facing? I’ve heard all kinds of theories. Feel free to add yours below.

Coakley told the South Shore Chamber of Commerce last week that she expects to complete her review of the deal in a month or two.

Working with the Department of Justice, Coakley could sue to try and block Partners from bringing South Shore into its system.

But a deal that would limit Partners clout seems more likely. So what should it include?

Here’s where my random conversations with doctors, hospital executives and patients gets really interesting. The virtual water cooler chatter includes these possible scenarios:

1. Partners can add South Shore — and that’s it.  No further expansion for, say, five years or so (the time frame varies from three to 10 years). Keep in mind, Partners has already announced plans to acquire two North Shore hospitals after the South Shore deal is done.

2. Partners can add South Shore, but it must sell off another hospital of equivalent size or scope. Continue reading

AG Coakley Weighs In On Health Cost Bill

Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley

WBUR’s Martha Bebinger spoke briefly with State Attorney General Martha Coakley today about the imminent passage of a new law intended to control rising health care costs and revamp the way medical care is paid for and delivered. The plan, expected to be signed by the governor soon, doesn’t go as far as some advocates had hoped in limiting the power of dominant hospital systems in the region, a distortion in the marketplace that Coakley has been targeting for several years. Here’s Martha’s edited interview:

Attorney General Martha Coakley says she’s confident that a new health care costs bill will help the state take on hospitals whose prices are based on market clout. The bill does not give the AG any new authority, but Coakley says it sets better standards for investigation. The AG says she will keep trying to fix health care pricing, but expects consumers and hospitals to do their part.

“The message is also that the industry and where they go is really important in terms of keeping costs down, keeping everyone insured, keeping high quality health care.”

The AG has issued two reports that say the power of Boston’s largest hospitals to demand high prices drives up health care costs for everyone.

Aetna Pays Over $1M For Thin Health Coverage, False Marketing To Students

This just in from Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley:

Aetna life insurance to pay more than $1 million for allegedly failing to cover mandated health insurance benefits and deceptively marketing student health insurance

At Least $500,000 in Restitution for Affected Massachusetts Consumers

BOSTON – After allegedly failing to cover certain medical services as required by state law and deceptively marketing its coverage to Massachusetts college students, Aetna Life Insurance Company (Aetna Life) will pay more than $1 million in civil penalties and restitution, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.

“When Massachusetts consumers buy health insurance, they should be able to feel confident that the coverage complies fully with Massachusetts law,” AG Coakley said. “Our office will continue to monitor the marketing and payment practices of health insurers to make sure that Massachusetts consumers are not being misled or denied benefits to which they are legally entitled.”

The AG’s complaint, filed along with the consent judgment in Suffolk Superior Court today, alleges that Aetna Life violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act by falsely marketing the scope of the coverage it offered to students. The alleged violations include overstating in marketing materials the aggregate maximum amount of certain Aetna coverage as $500,000 when it was really $50,000. The complaint also alleges that Aetna Life did not cover health services required by state law including mental health care, “pap” test screening, mammography, and preventive care for children up to age six. Continue reading

Patrick: Use Anti-Trust Laws To Fix High Hospital Prices

WBUR’s Martha Bebinger reports:

I’ve been waiting to hear from Governor Patrick on one of the most controversial health care cost control issues on Beacon Hill: what to do about hospitals that charge three, four or five times more for an MRI (and hundreds of other services) with little or no difference in quality.

Two reports from Attorney General Martha Coakley and at least two from the Governor’s administration (the latest here) say that inflated prices based on the market clout of major teaching hospitals are a major factor driving health care costs in Massachusetts.

Governor Deval Patrick addresses members of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Photo courtesy of the Chamber

Now we have some insight into the Governor’s position on this dicey problem. During a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast Tuesday, the Governor was asked whether he wants a provision in the final health care costs bills from the House and Senate that would deal with what’s often called “price disparities” among hospitals? The Governor framed the problem as one of “market clout” and said dealing with the market clout of top Boston hospitals is in the hands of AG Coakley.

The AG, said Patrick, “has tools today to address these imbalances and we have to look to her office to use those tools.”

I called Patrick’s office to clarify. What “tools?” An aide says the Governor was referring, loosely, to the AG’s ability to file anti-trust charges against hospitals. Continue reading