Partners at center of health care cost conundrums

On the one hand, countless studies suggest high-priced hospitals in Massachusetts offer care in most cases that is no different from what is available at a much lower cost at community hospitals. On the other hand, no one seems to believe it.

The Boston Globe reported last week that Neighborhood Health Plan had signed a contract with Boston Children’s Hospital that would make it difficult for the plan’s members covered by Medicaid to get treatment at the facility. Children’s was just too expensive, explained Neighborhood Health.

Other health plans have already taken action to restrict access to Children’s as they attempt to rein in the rising cost of health care by steering their customers away from health providers that charge more than their competitors. State regulators are also getting into the act, making suggestions about how to steer patients away from more expensive hospitals.

What made the news about Neighborhood and Children’s somewhat ironic is that the insurance plan is owned by Partners HealthCare, the corporate parent of Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s, two hospitals that are under fire for charging too much for care. Indeed, the two prestigious hospitals are the primary targets of a ballot question that would take money from them and redistribute it to hospitals around the state. (Children’s is not included as a target in the ballot question, even though its rates are probably the highest in the state, perhaps because no one wants to be seen as attacking children.)

Globe columnist Joan Vennochi laments a health care world of haves and have-nots, and ends with a plea. “Why can’t Partners and Children’s instead get behind an effort to lower their rates? The goal should be greater parity for all in health care — not less,” she writes.

Vennochi’s question is complicated, and David Torchiana, the CEO of Partners, provides a lengthy answer in CommonWealth’s just-released print issue. It’s the first time the Partners chief has had the opportunity to offer an in-depth response to the hospital system’s critics.

“Over the course of 90 minutes, Torchiana patiently goes through his charts, making the case that the ballot question is a terrible way to make public policy and that it won’t solve the problem is seeks to address,” the introduction to the Torchiana Q&A says. “He acknowledges Partners hospitals charge more than their competitors for some services, but says they lose money on 60 percent of what they do. Finally, he says health care spending in Massachusetts is not as out-of-whack as we think. He even suggests, given the state’s income level, we’re getting a pretty good deal.”

Who are you going to believe?

–BRUCE MOHL

 

BEACON HILL

The spring issue of CommonWealth is out, and with it, this profile of press-wary House Speaker Robert DeLeo. We learn he was a sure-gloved shortstop on the Boston Latin School baseball team — but he was less interested in fielding questions about his tenure and tight control over the House and wouldn’t sit down for an interview.

Beacon Hill pols enjoy carte blanche with their campaign cash. (CommonWealth)

Lawmakers Monday heard testimony on a bill that would attempt to rein in prescription drug prices by forcing manufacturers to report their costs of production, research and development, advertising, and marketing as well as overseas prices. (Standard-Times) Sen. Mark Montigny pulled a controversial provision from the proposed legislation that would have capped some prescription drug prices. (Boston Globe)

Ninety-one lawmakers from both parties sign a letter urging House Speaker Robert DeLeo not to include a provision in the upcoming omnibus energy bill requiring electric ratepayers to foot the bill for natural gas pipeline infrastructure. (State House News)

Gov. Charlie Baker, saying the Legislature did a terrific job, signs the solar net metering legislation into law. (State House News)

Officials are investigating the death of an inmate who was found unresponsive in his cell at Bridgewater State Hospital on Friday. (Associated Press)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

US Sen. Elizabeth Warren, saying Lawrence is a city with “great, great opportunities,” promises to work hard to bring federal funds to the municipality. (Eagle-Tribune)

Mayor Marty Walsh will include money for more Boston kindergarten seats and pilot program for police body cameras in a nearly $3 billion budget proposal this week. (Boston Globe)

The Attorney General’s office ruled the Weymouth Town Council violated the Open Meeting Law when its president wrote a letter to a developer seeking a mitigation agreement then had it passed around for other councilors to sign on. (Patriot Ledger)

Vandals threw rocks through the rear windows of vehicles in seven areas of Haverhill. (Eagle-Tribune)

Hull’s redevelopment board will rebid the contract to run the town’s beach parking lot that was initially awarded to the brother of the board’s chairman after the request for bids were not posted in the state registry or advertised in the local paper. (Patriot Ledger)

Newton’s school superintendent denounces the uncivil tone of a community meeting last week on tolerance and prejudice. (Boston Globe)

BOSTON MARATHON

A low-flying helicopter will make several passes over the Boston Marathon course measuring natural radiation to get a baseline to compare changes in levels in the case of a radiological threat. (State House News Service)

CASINOS

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is pushing ahead with its $1 billion casino despite a lawsuit from Taunton residents trying to stop it. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Move over Bruce Springsteen. The porn site XHamster.com has also stopped doing business with North Carolina because of its new LGBT law. (Huffington Post)

ELECTIONS

A last-minute attack mailer accused state Senate candidate Dan Rizzo, a Democrat running in today’s special election primary in the First Suffolk and Middlesex District, of endorsing a slew of previous Republican candidates for office. The Mass Values PAC, which sent the fliers, appears to have violated campaign finance laws by not filing a disclosure of the spending. The charges also don’t appear to be true. (CommonWealth)

A record $132 million has been spent on attack ads in the presidential primaries with more than half aimed at Donald Trump. (New York Times)

Kimberly Atkins says a bid by House Speaker Paul Ryan to snag the Republican presidential nomination would be a disaster for the GOP. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The US Justice Department announces a $5 billion legal settlement with Goldman Sachs over the sale of mortgage-backed securities leading up to the 2008 Great Recession. (Time)

Sweden is urging European Union officials to ban the import of US and Canadian lobsters after about a dozen crustaceans wearing the telltale claw bands were found in Swedish waters, leading to concerns the American shellfish would bring disease into the habitats. (Associated Press)

New Balance says the Obama administration reneged on a vow to give the company a fair shot at Pentagon contracts. (Boston Globe)

A Herald editorial takes a dim view of efforts to further bolster laws on equal pay for women.

EDUCATION

School closings, which Boston leaders are anticipating, are tough medicine for communities, and projected savings aren’t always as large as expected, reports Michael Levenson. (Boston Globe)

Bomb threats to Massachusetts schools are becoming something of an epidemic. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

On the 10th anniversary of the state’s landmark health care law, WBUR’s Martha Bebinger offers up 12 things to know about the statute.

Annie Dookhan, the chemist at the center of the state drug lab scandal, has been paroled from prison. (Boston Herald)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board puts off action on a mitigation plan for the loss of late-night service to provide more time to study an all-night service proposal put forward by the authors of a CommonWealth opinion piece. (CommonWealth)

The T transit police take over a parking fee theft probe from the transit authority’s private parking lot operator. (CommonWealth)

Budget cuts are on tap as the transit agency looks to shrink its structural deficit. (Politico)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield lays out plans for 5 megawatts of solar power on its land, enough to provide a tidy income for the living history museum. (Berkshire Eagle)

One of three wind turbines in Gloucester’s Blackburn Industrial Park has been down for six months and is unlikely to resume spinning for at least another six months. (Gloucester Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Gloucester Times editorial condemns a recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling making it easier for public officials who break the law to retain their pensions.

The state is moving to seal more quickly the criminal records of those eligible for such action, a step that advocates say is crucial to the ability of ex-offenders to land jobs and more licit pursuits. (Boston Globe)

Former SJC chief justice Margaret Marshall talks a variety of subjects including the need for “grown-ups” to do the job of filling the Supreme Court vacancy and the “bad genie” that has been let out of the bottle with the rise of Donald Trump. (Greater Boston)

An 11-year-old Natick boy was arrested after he challenged a Framingham police officer to a fight outside a movie theater then punched the officer. (MetroWest Daily News)

MEDIA

Aaron Mahnke, a Danvers resident who writes supernatural thrillers, has a big hit on his hands with his podcast Lore. (Salem News)

PASSING

CommonWealth founding editor Dave Denison profiled anti-tax activist Barbara Anderson, who died on Friday, in the magazine’s second issue, 20 years ago. Read it here.