About that hot dog

A rundown of the magazine's highlights

Thomas Farragher at the Boston Globe wrote a column recently about the struggle between hospital haves and have-nots. He likened struggling community hospitals such as Holyoke Medical Center to a push-cart vendor who sets the price of his hot dogs at 60 cents apiece even though they cost $1 to produce. Meanwhile, Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals sell hots dogs from shiny new food trucks and charge $2.50 even though the bun and hot dog they are also selling costs $1.

Farragher was part of the Globe Spotlight Team that reported on the discrepancy in hospital payments eight years ago. Since then, several studies by the attorney general’s office and the Health Policy Commission have confirmed that the elite teaching hospitals owned by Partners HealthCare are charging far more than community hospitals for some services even though the quality of those services is no better.

The hospital pricing issue is shaping up as one of the biggest issues of the year. Regulators and lawmakers are trying to figure out what to do about the pricing discrepancy, even as the Service Employees International Union is gathering signatures for a ballot question that would compress the payment system for all hospitals, effectively redistributing wealth from the haves to the have-nots.

We’ve been asking for close to a year to talk to David Torchiana, the CEO of Partners, for his take on the debate. He recently agreed to sit down and make his case.

“My answer to this is very simple and it’s trite, really,” he says in an interview on the 11th floor of the Prudential Center. “We get paid more for deliveries and cholecystectomies [gallbladder removals] because we’re supporting a burn service that’s available seven days a week, 24 hours a day for the region of New England. There’s a whole lot of things that go into tertiary centers that are necessary for the public good that get funded through this crazy payment system that we have.”

Self-serving? Probably. But Torchiana’s take is undeniably valuable information to have as the debate over hospital rates begins in earnest and we begin trying to decide how to regulate two of the most respected teaching hospitals in the nation.

Unfortunately, the speaker of the Massachusetts House didn’t sit down with CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas to discuss how the lawmaker wields power on Beacon Hill. It’s a shame because an interview may have shed some light on the paradox that is Robert DeLeo, an affable Winthrop rep who made his way up the political ladder to become one of the most powerful people on Beacon Hill. DeLeo portrays himself as a regular guy striving for consensus, but his actions suggest he’s been bitten by the same thirst for power and control that afflicted nearly all of his predecessors.

Jack Sullivan examines two years of campaign spending by state lawmakers and comes away feeling that a good chunk of the money donated to politicians ends up going to support their lifestyles. Joan Menard is a good example. She retired from the state Senate in 2011, and since then has spent nearly $305,000 out of her campaign account on items that have nothing to do with running for office.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Ted Siefer looks at Lowell, one of our state’s Gateway Cities and home to a burgeoning Cambodian population, and asks and answers why all the local leaders are white.

Finally, we introduce you to Gerard Polcari. Chances are you’ve never heard of him, but he’s just one of many private sector officials being brought into the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker in a bid to shake things up. Polcari is the chief of procurement at the T, and someone who doesn’t talk or act like a government official.