When Massachusetts passed near-universal healthcare reform in 2006, there was a celebratory feel among lawmakers who had finally completed exhaustive work to dramatically improve healthcare access. Healthcare cost control? A battle for a different day, they said. Well, to borrow the title from that great Monkees comeback hit of the mid-1980s: That was then—this is now. With the law succeeding in reducing the number of uninsured, lawmakers are finally close to rolling out legislation designed to tackle healthcare costs.
The cost-control issue has been a concern since the law was passed, and state lawmakers always said they tackled the “easy” part first. Finding a way to keep costs in check, and how—or if—that could be done legislatively has been discussed for the past six years. In fact, the ink was barely dry from former Gov. Mitt Romney’s signature before Titanic references started flying. Spiraling healthcare costs were said to be the iceberg to Massachusetts’ healthcare Titanic.
Massachusetts’ current Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, has been pressing lawmakers for definitive action for the better part of the last two years, but finding common ground has not been easy. Health plans, hospital systems and advocacy groups have all wanted input, and getting everyone on the same page has certainly proven challenging.
However, lawmakers appear close to unveiling a bill that would tie healthcare costs to the general growth of the state’s economy, around 3.7 percent annually. Healthcare costs in the state have been rising around 6.7 percent to 8 percent annually, and when word trickled out about what may be in the works, opinions quickly came forth. For instance, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts is pushing for the number to be two percentage points below the gross state product. Both the Massachusetts Hospital Association and Massachusetts Medical Society are pushing back hard against any such formula. Lynn Nicholas, president of the Massachusetts Hospital Association, even called the idea “a draconian measure.” And believe it or not, this is actually progress. Expect some concrete legislation to be produced later this summer.
In the meantime, efforts to control costs have been happening throughout other avenues. The state’s top insurers have been working to sign provider groups to contracts which reimburse through global payments rather than the traditional fee-for-service method. In addition, Massachusetts insurers have been rolling out limited and/or tiered network offerings at a rapid clip, hoping to push consumers toward more affordable and appropriate options for care.
And while these initiatives alone aren’t a panacea for spiraling costs, as a whole, they have once again put Massachusetts on a course worth following. Insert Titanic joke here…