Health Policy Commission sticks with benchmark

Even though prices expected to exceed target., commission votes no change


WITH CONSUMERS experiencing higher health care outlays and some putting off care because of it, a state commission on Wednesday stuck with the annual state health care cost growth benchmark, which is a target rather than a binding cap on price or spending escalation.

The Health Policy Commission voted to keep the 2024 benchmark at 3.6 percent. The decision followed proceedings during which employers cited affordability concerns and providers aired worries about finances and bottom lines, workforce constraints, and health care access.

Commission chair Deborah Devaux said at a meeting Wednesday that she did not see the value in increasing the benchmark given affordability challenges and acknowledged “critical consideration” around the idea of reducing the benchmark to put more pressure on cost control.

“I’m finding it difficult to justify doing that at a time when we are seeing different data points in 2022, about what’s happening with the pressures on delivery of care,” Devaux said. “I think 2023 will be an important year for us to understand how that stabilizes.”

The commission voted after a presentation that showed hospitals in the fourth quarter appeared to be recovering from negative margins earlier in 2022.

The HPC and its allies have so far been unable to convince the Legislature for more authority to serve as a more forceful check on rising health care costs and complement its approach to helping to ensure costs stay in line with benchmarks that are tied to potential gross state product.

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Over the last nine years, total health care expenditures have grown by an average of 3.52 percent per year, HPC Executive Director David Seltz said.

The commission’s vote enabled it to beat its April 15 statutory deadline to set a benchmark by two days. A two-thirds vote is needed to modify the benchmark.