Health Policy Commission to assess ballot question

A state agency is preparing to play the role of fact checker in a bitter, high-stakes campaign over a ballot question that would mandate nurse-patient staffing ratios in hospitals across the state.

The Health Policy Commission, after weeks of hedging when asked whether it would analyze the impact of Question 1, revealed that it had been studying the issue for several months and will release its findings on October 3.

It’s rare for a state agency to attempt to sort out the facts in a ballot question fight, but this situation is even more unusual because the Health Policy Commission would play an instrumental role in implementing the law if it is approved by voters. According to the language of the ballot question, the commission would be required to promulgate regulations to implement the law and conduct inspections to ensure compliance.

Stuart Altman, the chair of the Health Policy Commission, said the agency’s analysis of Question 1 “is consistent with the HPC’s role as an independent watchdog of health care costs, quality, and access in the state.”

The commission said it has been studying California’s experience with a mandated nurse staffing law, existing nurse staffing levels at Massachusetts hospitals, and costs associated with the proposed law’s requirement that the various units inside hospitals comply with designated nurse-patient ratios.

The commission said it hired Dr. Joanne Spetz from the University of California-San Francisco as a consultant in August. Spetz was a coauthor of a 2013 article in Health Services Research that found California’s law boosted nurse staffing significantly with “mixed effects on quality.”

The Massachusetts Nurses Association, the union that represents many nurses across the state, is leading the fight for Question 1. The association nearly took a similar question to the ballot in 2014, but backed off when the Legislature passed a law establishing minimum staffing levels in intensive care units.

The fight over nurse staffing ratios is contentious — and expensive. The Massachusetts Nurses Association, citing a study done by a Boston College researcher, said the ballot question would improve care and cost the state’s hospitals a total of $47 million a year. A study done by the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association estimated the cost at $1.3 billion in the first year and $900 million a year after that.

The committee supporting the ballot question had raised $5.7 million and spent $4.9 million as of September 10, according to campaign finance records. The hospital group opposed to the ballot question had raised $10.5 million and spent $9.2 million.

Polls have provided conflicting results on Question 1. A Boston Globe survey conducted from September 13 to September 17 indicated the yes campaign was ahead 51.8 percent to 33 percent. A WBUR survey conducted between September 17 and September 21 showed the race in a dead-heat at 44 percent apiece.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

The Baker administration plans to oppose a federal rules change that would restrict the ability of immigrants to obtain green cards if they receive public benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The president of Columbia Gas vows to fully reimburse residents in the Merrimack Valley for all damage caused by this month’s gas explosions. (Boston Globe)

A man set multiple fires in Pittsfield and was later arrested near the Canadian border. The fire department dealt with the fires by calling in help from neighboring communities. (Berkshire Eagle)

A Land Court judge upholds Lynnfield’s ban on short-term rentals. (Daily Item)

Fall River removed one of 240 banners placed on light poles with the city’s new logo “Make It Here” because the sponsor put an apparent anti-abortion slogan on the banner rather than a company name. (Herald News)

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch is asking the City Council for $250,000 to pay for anticipated legal fees to fight Boston’s plan to rebuild the Long Island Bridge. (Patriot Ledger)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sat down for an unprecedented interview with Fox News to defend himself against allegations of sexual assault and among his claims are that he was a virgin through high school and long after and never drank excessively. (National Review) Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook is getting intense scrutiny for its potential insights into his drinking and sexual habits. (New York Times)

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein remained in his job overseeing the Russia investigation at least until a planned Thursday meeting with President Trump. Monday was a day of whirlwind rumors that Rosenstein would either resign or be fired in the wake of a report that he wanted to tape conversations with the president and invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him. (New York Times)

A Pew Research Center survey finds women fare better on leadership traits than men. (Washington Post)

A Gloucester Times editorial tells Congress to butt out and not tinker with the Supreme Court’s decision allowing states to collect taxes on sales by internet retailers.

ELECTIONS

A WBUR poll by MassINC Polling Group finds the ballot question over mandated nurse staffing levels deadlocked at 44 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed. (WBUR) The state Health Policy Commission will issue a report next week analyzing the cost implications of the controversial ballot question. (Boston Globe)

NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, a leading abortion-rights organization, is endorsing Jay Gonzalez in the governor’s race. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A new study shows the gender pay gap persists at larger nonprofits but is closing in smaller charities. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

The co-founders of Instagram are stepping down in a dispute over autonomy with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who bought the company to add to his social media portfolio. (Wall Street Journal)

The developer of a proposed mixed-use building in downtown Southborough that will include one-bedroom residential units withdrew his application so he could erase the term “apartments,” which are prohibited in the town’s business village district. (MetroWest Daily News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

State officials have issued a public health alert about a hepatitis A outbreak after 65 cases were diagnosed among homeless people and drug addicts with at least one death so far. (State House News)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA says its bus network isn’t working, and the Fiscal and Management Control Board calls for staff to come up with “disruptive” changes. (CommonWealth)

State Sen. Marc Pacheco, in an oped for the Boston Herald, questions whether the T really has saved $450 million through waivers of the anti-privatization law that bears his name.

T notes: Migraines prompt 40 percent of FMLA leaves…the T expects to win federal approval for a two-year extension on installing an anticollision system on the commuter rail….UMass Lowell and the T strike a deal that will allow the school’s 20,000 students and employees to ride the commuter rail for free. (CommonWealth)

State transportation officials will decide by the end of the year whether to replace the aging viaduct carrying the Massachusetts Turnpike through Allston with a new piece of raised highway or rebuild the roadway at grade level, as many activists and abbutters are urging. (Boston Globe)

Four states — California, Colorado, Missouri, and Utahhave measures on the ballot that would affect transportation funding. (Governing)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Boston Police Department launches a new division focused on community policing efforts. (Boston Globe)

Federal prosecutors, in a Boston court hearing in the case of a California man accused of making threatening phone calls to the Boston Globe, said they are looking into whether he may also be responsible for similar calls placed to the New York Times and the National Football League. (Boston Globe)

The Massachusetts State Police are hiring an outside accounting firm to review the department’s payroll practices in the wake of the overtime scandal that has rocked the force. (Boston Globe)

A former Goldman Sachs analyst and one-time television writer who pleaded guilty to an insider trading scheme was accused of sexual misconduct while he was an undergraduate at Harvard in 2013. (Wall Street Journal)