Health care pricing regulation gains backing

Slowly but surely the case is being made for some form of state intervention in health care pricing.

Attorney General Maura Healey broached the idea in October during a series of hearings hosted by the state’s Health Policy Commission on health care cost trends. She noted that big disparities in prices paid to some health care providers continue to hinder efforts to rein in costs and said the state should “consider forms of directly regulating the level of variation in provider prices and/or medical spending.”

In January, the Health Policy Commission itself said policymakers need to address the disparities in health care pricing when there is no measureable difference in quality, complexity, or other indicators. The commission said it planned to make recommendations to the Legislature on a course of action within six months.

Now four business and trade groups are calling on the state to act. Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans said the price disparities are well documented and need to be addressed. Rick Lord, the president of AIM, also sits on the Health Policy Commission.

A number of initiatives are already underway to indirectly reduce the impact of hospital pricing disparities, but momentum seems to be building for more direct action. Many are pointing to Maryland, which sets the prices hospitals can charge for their services. While state price regulation in Massachusetts would be controversial, Stuart Altman, the chairman of the board of the Health Policy Commission, says Maryland has shown price regulation can be done without undercutting the quality of care.

“Johns Hopkins is located in Maryland,” he said. “So just because you have regulation doesn’t mean that it destroys the quality of the health care system.”

Some aren’t waiting for policymakers to figure out what to do about pricing disparities among hospital providers. 1199SEIU is pushing a ballot question this fall that would allow voters to set hospital prices. The question would require insurers to pay hospital providers no more than 20 percent above or 10 percent below the average cost of a service.The ballot question could cost Partners HealthCare, which owns Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals and is the chief beneficiary of the disparity in pricing, an estimated $439 million.

While policymakers are laying the groundwork for some sort of state intervention in the health care marketplace, the position of one key player is unknown. Gov. Charlie Baker shocked many at the health cost trend hearings in October when he downplayed the impact of health care costs in Massachusetts, suggesting that prices weren’t that high when adjusted for income levels in the state.

Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services and a member of the Health Policy Commission, said after the agency’s meeting in January that she’d have to get back to a reporter on whether the Baker administration would support government intervention to eliminate hospital pricing disparities. She hasn’t gotten back yet.

–BRUCE MOHL

 

BEACON HILL

Massachusetts had the highest rate of abused children in country in fiscal year 2014, but state officials say the ranking was driven by awareness campaigns and greater vigilance on the part of the state. (Boston Globe)

A six-month investigation finds that M. Paul Iannuccillo, on average, works less than four hours a day running the Northern Essex Registry of Deeds even though he is paid $109,601 a year. (Eagle-Tribune)  Methuen City Councilor and lobbyist James Jajuga Jr. spends a lot of time at the Northern Essex Registry of Deeds, but it’s unclear what he’s doing there. (Eagle-Tribune)

Will Luzier, a former assistant attorney general, is leading the fight to legalize marijuana. (CommonWealth)

Former House speaker Sal DiMasi appeals to the Supreme Judicial Court for pension money he says he is owed. The case turns on when his conviction on corruption charges became final — when he was sentenced or when his appeals were exhausted. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Mayor Marty Walsh said yesterday’s storm was not space-saver-worthy. (Boston Herald)

Dante Ramos says the city’s confusing rules invite “policy creep” and argues that Boston should  make a clean break and do away allowing space savers altogether. (Boston Globe)

Worcester lands a professional hockey team, with Cliff Rucker winning an ECHL expansion franchise. (Telegram & Gazette)

Lawrence plans to use a $1 million state grant to hire five police officers who will all be fluent in Spanish. (Eagle-Tribune)

Yellow flag: Opponents of the proposed IndyCar race in Boston’s Seaport want the event to undergo a detailed state environmental review. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Congressional Republicans have rejected President Obama’s budget sight unseen, even abandoning a 41-year-old tradition by refusing to let the administration’s budget director testify on the proposal before the House and Senate budget committees. (New York Times)

Men should protect women,” says the National Review in an editorial against the move to require women to register for the draft.

ELECTIONS

It’s a madcap dash to win over any remaining undecided voters in New Hampshire, where a handful of residents in Dixville Notch have already cast ballots and had their votes announced. (It was Kasich for the GOP and Sanders for the Dems.)

The head of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, echoing a theme that’s been sounded in recent weeks, said a Donald Trump victory in the Republican primary could imperil the state’s first-in-the-nation primary, which has always been driven by retail politics. (Boston Herald)

Greater Boston focuses solely on the New Hampshire primary, featuring a bevy of pundits and endorsers, including Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey talking about her candidate, Hillary Clinton.

“They are not going to let any of his stuff move forward. None of it,” said Mayor Marty Walsh of how a Republican Congress would deal with a President Bernie Sanders. (Boston Herald)

Michael Bloomberg says he is considering a run for president as an independent. He calls the “level of discourse and discussion distressingly banal.” (Financial Times) A Globe editorial says he should stop it with the Hamlet routine, and either jump in or not. Ralph Nader pens a Globe op-ed saying a Bloomberg run could shake up the two-party system — but he doubts in the end that the New York billionaire will take the plunge.

Gov. Charlie Baker is taking an active interest in promoting candidates for the Republican State Committee. (MassLive)

In a stinging rebuke, Jack Kennedy Schlossberg, JFK’s grandson, rejects Ted Cruz’s assertion that the late president would be a Republican if he were alive today. (Politico)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Rhode Island’s Democratic governor, Gina Raimondo, made a big play to land General Electric’s headquarters, ultimately losing out to her Republican pal Charlie Baker. (Raimondo was one of two governors to attend Baker’s inauguration.) (Boston Globe)

Marlborough is the latest community to establish an Internet swap zone, designating a parking lot at the police station where people can safely complete online transactions. (MetroWest Daily News)

EDUCATION

The Danvers School Committee votes to up the salary of Superintendent Lisa Dana to $171,000. (Salem News)

The federal Department of Education has created a new enforcement division aimed at quickly responding to allegations of illegal activity by for-profit colleges. (U.S. News & World Report)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Something different: A feel-good ad campaign about high-cost pharmaceuticals. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Massachusetts has hit the cap on on two incentives used to promote solar energy development. (Boston Globe)

Flint, Michigan, is not the only community with toxic levels of lead in its drinking water as scores of communities have discovered unsafe levels in their water sources and failed to tell residents in a timely manner. (New York Times)

Barnstable County has hired an expert to help Cape Cod towns apply for federal flood insurance discounts, the first such coordinator in the country. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A federal appeals court has cleared the way for the family of a Framingham grandfather mistakenly shot to death by a SWAT team gunman to proceed with a civil-rights lawsuit against the officer. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

The print-only Boston Courant weekly is shutting down after losing a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by a former employee. (Boston Globe)

PASSINGS

Buddy Cianci goes out in style through the snow-covered streets of the city he loved. (Providence Journal)

Artur Fischer, a German-born inventor who had more patents than Thomas Edison including the plastic drywall anchor that makes it possible to insert a screw without breaking away the plaster, has died. He was 96. (New York Times)