Irony abounds in health agency cuts

Sure, if you’re highlighting irony in this irony-filled world of ours, the easy stop is Cleveland, where the opening night of a GOP convention that is about to nominate a man who suggests Barack Obama is a cop killer-sympathizing Muslim turncoat featured that man’s wife delivering a heartfelt speech about her husband that cribbed heavily from the heartfelt 2008 Democratic convention tribute to said turncoat by his wife.

Sad!

But a far wonkier case of irony closer to home caught our eye. In fact, this morning’s story by the Boston Globe‘s Priyanka Dayal McCluskey on the plight of a little-known state agency offers a triple dose of it.

After the state enacted its pathbreaking 2006 law expanding access to health care, everyone knew that addressing spiraling costs was the next big health care challenge. State leaders sought to tackle that with a 2012 law. The law set up two entities designed to help contain increases in health care costs: the Health Policy Commission, which monitors mergers and the overall performance of the health care system and the Center for Health Information and Analysis, which was set up to provide more extensive data on health care pricing and information on the health care market.

With costs continuing to climb — and with lots of fingers pointed at Partners HealthCare, the medical behemoth that has been able to command far higher prices for the same services as other health care players — a move was underway to put a question on this November’s state ballot that would have reined in price disparities between Partners and other health care providers. If passed by voters, the measure would have cost the health care giant some $440 million a year in payments.

In May, however, a deal was reached between Partners and SEIU, the health care workers union that was behind the ballot question. The union spiked the ballot drive in exchange for the right to possibly unionize more workers at Partners facilities and in consideration of $45 million being funneled over five years to lower-paid community hospitals. Helping to broker the closed-door agreement were top lieutenants of Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Stan Rosenberg.

The first irony: The money to help community hospitals will come from cuts to the budget of the Center for Health Information and Analysis — the state office that is supposed to provide detailed data on hospital pricing to help drive greater transparency and competition in the health care market.

“We worry that by taking money out of CHIA, [lawmakers and the governor] are hurting the very cause that they’re trying to solve,” Brian Rosman, policy director at the advocacy group Health Care for All, told the Globe.

Irony No. 2: Some of those expected to lose jobs at CHIA due to the cuts are members of another SEIU unit, the National Association of Government Employees.

Some pushed back on the idea that the deal will hurt the ability to address health care pricing disparities. State Rep. Jeff Sanchez, the House chairman of the Legislature’s health care financing committee, told McCluskey, “It’s a good time for all of us in state government to reflect on what we’ve built and how we’re going to continue.”

Meanwhile, the Baker administration seems to be walking back an earlier vow to have CHIA create a consumer-friendly website with information on health care costs. Baker has long held out pricing transparency as the key to improving the functioning of the health care market. “Officials said CHIA’s reduced budget would allow the agency to ‘return’ to its core mission, without specifying how it may have strayed from that mission,” writes McCluskey.

Health policy expert John McDonough, who helped write the state’s 2006 health reform law and now teaches at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote in the current issue of CommonWealth about the deal hatched to avert the ballot showdown. He said Partners and SEIU both made out well, while avoiding the ballot fight was a relief to Baker, DeLeo, and Rosenberg. Whether SEIU’s originally stated goal of reining of health care costs in the state was advanced at all, he wrote, is different matter.

It what would be a final irony, it’s possible that the deal will actually set back those efforts if cuts to CHIA mean valuable information on health costs isn’t available.

Whatever the outcome, McDonough tells McCluskey, “The unfortunate thing is this was done without any public discussion about the consequences.”

–MICHAEL JONAS

 

BEACON HILL

The state Lottery reported record sales and an all-time high in local aid distribution in the last fiscal year. (State House News Service)

A Globe editorial decries the fact that state leaders don’t appear to value the contribution UMass makes to the state and its economy.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A newly appointed member of the Easton Conservation Committee is under fire and some residents are calling for his resignation after he made two anti-Muslim posts on his personal Facebook page that he claims were “misinterpreted.” (The Enterprise)

Tisbury officials are seeking to enact regulations governing floating businesses as some residents look to the water option with land on Martha’s Vineyard at a premium. (Cape Cod Times)

Peabody officials are fighting a suit over the taking by eminent domain of a historic mansion in the downtown area to save it from demolition. (The Item)

Citing police shootings around the country, Brockton police officials and the mayor urged the City Council to approve a significant increase in the department overtime budget. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL 

The process of “participatory budgeting,” where local governments open up spending decisions of capital funds to residents, is growing in cities around the country. (Governing)

ELECTIONS 

Melania Trump‘s speech to the Republican National Convention Monday night, which she said she wrote mostly by herself, bore a striking similarity to Michelle Obama‘s speech at the Democratic convention in 2008. (New York Times)

The Herald‘s Jaclyn Cashman thinks Trump is bit nutty with his “bizarre intimation that President Obama somehow supports recent police shootings” and says he ought to curb such talk if he wants to unify his party and broaden his appeal. Joe Battenfeld, saying Trump should “go home while he’s behind,” thinks there is little to be gained from the convention for the GOP nominee-to-be other to than to spotlight the ambivalence of many Republicans toward the party’s choice.

Scott Brown would be open to a post in a Trump administration. He’s just sayin’. (Boston Herald)

In an address to the NAACP, Hillary Clinton said “this madness has to stop” and called on black leaders to work with police to ease tensions and reduce shootings by and of both groups. (U.S. News & World Report)

Because Ohio is an “open carry” state, GOP convention-goers can bring their guns everywhere but inside the convention hall and immediate surroundings — but umbrellas and squirt guns will be prohibited everywhere. (American Spectator)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY 

Attorney General Maura Healey announced this morning that Massachusetts will join with New York and Maryland in filing suit against Volkswagen AG over its diesel emissions scandal. (Boston Globe)

Attention, shoppers, no tax holiday for you this year. (State House News Service)

EDUCATION 

A state audit has cited Framingham State University for lax inventory control and raised concerns over the school’s process for securing sensitive data and personal information. (MetroWest Daily News)

School superintendents are being ordered to study up on the state’s public records law after more than 200 districts ignored a researcher’s request for data on gender differences in teacher pay. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE 

The latest case of Zika virus in Utah is alarming officials because it appears the victim did not contract the virus through sexual contact or in traveling abroad, the only previous known methods for transmitting the disease. (U.S. News & World Report)

TRANSPORTATION 

Duck Tours in Boston will be staffed by a second employee after two recent accidents, including one that killed a woman riding a scooter. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT 

Thousands of tons of contaminated soil are being removed from construction sites in eastern Massachusetts and trucked and then dumped in Uxbridge, including near rivers and on a farm next to where corn is being grown to feed cows for human consumption. (Telegram and Gazette)

Several Cape Cod towns are challenging a state decision allowing Eversource to spray herbicide around power transmission lines. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS 

A push is on to pass legislation that would lead to the wiping clean of some juvenile criminal records after a certain period of time. (Boston Globe)

A fourth Baltimore police officer has been acquitted in the Freddie Gray case. (New York Times)

MEDIA

The Murdoch family has reportedly determined that Fox News head Roger Ailes has got to go. (New York)

OLYMPICS 

The World Anti-Doping Agency released a report calling for a ban on all Russian athletes from the Rio Olympics, saying there is proof that a scheme to use performance-enhancing drugs was a state-sponsored program. (New York Times)