Commission wraps up health pricing discussions
As ballot question talks go on, agency’s role unclear
THE STATE’S HEALTH POLICY COMMISSION on Thursday wrapped up a series of discussions with industry stakeholders on what to do about hospital pricing disparities, but the group seemed to have no clear plan on what to do next.
As members offered up their ideas at the end of a two-hour meeting, some talked about broadening the group of stakeholders. Others advocated for small steps that could be taken to address the pricing disparities. Still others said it was time to stop talking and take action. They noted that study after study has shown a handful of hospitals, led by Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s of Partners HealthCare, routinely charge much higher prices for services with no discernible difference in quality or outcome.
“The strong are getting stronger and the weak are getting weaker,” said David Spackman, the general counsel at Lahey Health.
As the group debated what to do next, it was unclear if their deliberations would have any impact on a Beacon Hill effort to grapple with the problem. SEIU1999 is pushing a ballot question that would bar licensed commercial health insurers from paying any hospital more than 20 percent above or 10 percent below the “carrier-specific average relative price” for a service.
David Seltz, the executive director of the Health Policy Commission, said no one from his staff is participating in the Beacon Hill discussions. Stuart Altman, the chairman of the commission’s board, said he wasn’t participating in the Beacon Hill talks. He said he assumed the participants were paying attention to what the Health Policy Commission was doing, but he said he didn’t know for certain whether that was the case.
“I can’t say what is going on,” he said.The commission said in January that Massachusetts policymakers needed to address the pricing disparity among hospitals. The commission then convened a large group of stakeholders and held discussions on different ways of curbing the price disparity, including reducing consumer demand for high-priced health services and incentivizing health care providers to offer care in different, more efficient ways.
On Thursday, the group heard from Joshua Sharfstein, the former secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who talked about how his state has had success regulating health care prices. While many in the audience were fascinated with the approach, there seemed to be consensus that such a massive regulatory intervention was unlikely to happen soon, if ever.