THE CODCAST

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Rosenthal says pharma must do its part

It isn’t surprising that Amy Rosenthal, the executive director of Health Care for All, wants to rein in the cost of prescription drugs. She’s been quite clear that breakthrough drugs don’t have much of an impact if people can’t afford them.

But her talk of shared responsibility on the Health or Consequences Codcast with Paul Hattis and John McDonough took the debate in a new direction. She said she has made the rounds with all of the players in the Massachusetts health care system and discovered a shared pride in all that has been accomplished in terms of near-universal coverage and moderating prices. Each of the players has contributed.

“Individuals were required to start buying health insurance, the individual mandate,” she said. “Employers had an employer assessment. Hospitals and insurers have to go before the Health Policy Commission. All of these things were not easy. People had to put some serious skin in the game. And all we’re saying at this point is that it’s time for pharma to do their part in this.”

Two views of the pause in ICE courthouse arrests

The CommonWealth Codcast hosted Center for Immigration Studies’ Jessica Vaughan and immigration attorney Matt Cameron to break down the history behind courthouse arrests in Massachusetts, and what a recent decision barring most ICE agents from courthouses could mean. Vaughan is the Director of Policy Studies for the D.C.-based Center for Immigration studies, a nonpartisan research institute that examines economic, security, and social impact of immigration.

Cameron is the managing partner of Cameron Law Offices, and the director of Golden Stairs Immigration Center, an East Boston non-profit immigration legal service provider. He also teaches immigration policy at Northeastern University.

Kicking the tires on transpo politics

In a wide-ranging discussion about the Bay State’s transportation problems, former congressman Mike Capuano and Kendall Square Association CEO C.A. Webb made their case for new revenue and bold new investments in transit, while Steve Baddour, a lobbyist who previously served as Senate chair of the Transportation Committee, highlighted the plight of car commuters.

In the most recent episode of the Codcast, those three, who have played a vocal role in transportation policy over the years, batted around some other proposed solutions to get people where they are going faster.

Was Stop & Shop strike a turning point?

THE STOP & SHOP STRIKE earlier this year cost the company about $100 million and resulted in a contract the workers could agree to, but whether the power on display at Bay State grocery stores was an aberration or a sign of resurgent force in private sector labor is an open question.

For decades, private sector labor has been on a decline around the United States, but the Stop & Shop strike gained big buy-in from the public and politicians. Jeff Bollen, who is president of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1445, noticed a connection between his union reaching an agreement with Stop & Shop and then later gaining some concessions from Macy’s.

“We believe when the strike ended, and we won that strike, that Macy’s came right back to the table and settled – the best contract we’ve ever gotten from them,” Bollen said.

Bollen and Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman both sat down for an interview on the most recent episode of the Codcast to provide organized labor’s viewpoint on that strike and where the labor movement stands today.

Campbell: Blue Hill Ave. conversation needed

Add Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell to the list of officials talking about creating a dedicated bus lane along busy Blue Hill Avenue.

In a wide-ranging interview on the CommonWealth Codcast with three members of TransitMatters – Josh Fairchild, Jim Aloisi, and Jarred Johnson – Campbell said transportation is one of the top issues in her district, which covers parts of Mattapan, Dorchester, Roslindale, and Jamaica Plain.

“More and more people are paying attention to transit and transportation because they need to get to their jobs, or they need to get their kid to school, or they need to get someplace for a recreational purpose and they don’t want to be on a bus for an hour or two,” she said. “If we want them to connect to these opportunities, we have to have a really thorough and thoughtful conversation about Blue Hill Avenue – dedicated bus lanes, rapid transit, everything needs to be on the table.”

In March, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh accelerated the city’s efforts to launch dedicated bus lanes; Blue Hill Avenue was broached as a possibility at that time but city officials said more outreach to residents in the area was needed first.

CHIA good source of data about Mass. healthcare

The center for health information and analysis produces reams of data for both Massachusetts policymakers and the public, providing a window into state health care expenditures and offering tools to compare prices between different providers.

Ray Campbell, the executive director of CHIA, walked through some of the available online data tools during a recent conversation with Paul Hattis and John McDonough for their “Health or Consequences” Codcast.

“No other state has an organization quite like CHIA,” said Campbell, who added that the agency, which is funded by assessments on the health care industry, looks into spending on hospitals, drugs, and doctors, and it gains some important insights from the all-payer-claims database.

While CHIA has access to tools that are unavailable in other parts of the country, the agency can’t see everything, so it works collaboratively with the health insurers to give consumers a more complete idea of what they might pay for a particular procedure.

Putting standardized testing to the test

With spring comes the annual ritual of MCAS testing in Massachusetts schools. It’s how we gauge the performance of individual students as well as schools and districts. The assessment of basic skills in math, English, and, more recently, science offers a snapshot of academic achievement levels, and it is the central measure used in the state’s accountability system that aims to hold schools responsible for outcomes.

And, argues Jack Schneider, it fundamentally gets everything wrong.

The UMass Lowell professor wrote in his recent book, Beyond Test Scores: A Better Way to Measure School Quality, “We have two decades of evidence that current approaches to educational measurement are insufficient and irresponsible.”

Schneider says on this week’s Codcast that test scores serve only as “demographic data in disguise,” telling us more about the family income of students than about the quality of their education.

He’s part of a cohort of critics who say the testing and accountability systems that have accompanied the modern education reform movement have served to narrow the curriculum — particularly in schools serving lots of poor kids. Test scores, he says, tell us nothing about how safe students feel, whether they are “developing as citizens,” and whether they feel engaged by school.

Dogged advocate for putting more bodies on trains

In the world of transit advocacy, there are those who push for sweeping changes such as regional rail, connecting the Red and Blue subway lines, or doing away with transit fares. And then there are people like Richard Prone, who advocates for smaller, nitty gritty initiatives that nevertheless play an influential role in the broader debate.

Prone spent most of his working life as a train engineer and now, in retirement, serves as the Duxbury representative on the MBTA Advisory Board. He is a relentless advocate for the South Shore at meetings of the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, where he shows up week after week during the public comment period and uses his two minutes of speaking time to doggedly make the case for policies he believes will help his neighbors and increase commuter rail ridership.

“You have to be persistent and you have to make sense,” he said on the Codcast.

Episode 152: Putting out a welcome mat for housing

Greater Boston’s booming housing market may be lucrative to real estate speculators, but the constricted supply of housing isn’t helping those who make long-term investments in their homes, according to a Boston city councilor and housing advocates.

Councilor Lydia Edwards, who chairs the Housing and Community Development Committee and represents East Boston, Charlestown, and the North End, said that if housing production (including affordable housing production) rises to a rate that better meets demand, speculators might be hurt but ordinary homeowners will gain a more long-term perspective on their investments.

“What we’re seeing is an inflation of that value and people buying in like it’s the new stock market in order to get a return that is just unheard of even on Wall Street on housing that they’re not occupying or even – sometimes – renting out,” Edwards said. “If that’s your goal, to make that kind of return on your investment, yes, building a lot more units might actually hurt that.”

Edwards joined Chris Norris, executive director of Metro Housing Boston, and Eric Shupin, the director of public policy for the Citizens Housing and Planning Association, on the Codcast.

Episode 151: Slowing down the ‘stroads’ of Boston

Boston’s version of vision zero, an idea that originated in Sweden more than two decades ago, sets as its target zero fatalities or serious injuries by 2030 among people who walk, bicycle, or drive.

A recent policy report from the Vision Zero Coalition indicates the number of fatalities has been declining in Boston, falling from 21 in 2016 to 10 in 2018, with the number of pedestrian fatalities dropping from 14 to 7 over that time period. But the number of crashes that required response by emergency medical service teams actually increased slightly, rising from 4,355 in 2016 to 4,367 in 2018.

“Generally speaking the trend lines are better, or at least they’re not any worse, than when the program was adopted,” said Matthew Lawlor, who is active in WalkUP Roslindale. “We’re making progress, but those of us who are advocates think progress isn’t coming fast enough.”