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Massachusetts Health Policy Official Discusses Priorities

Leon Brooks

Massachusetts ,which pioneered universal access to health insurance, is now beginning the next phase of healthcare reform: reining in the run-away costs.  The executive director of the new agency responsible for implementing the state’s cost containment law was in Springfield on Thursday.

The Executive Director of the Health Policy Commission, David Seltz, told a Chamber of Commerce luncheon audience that it will be a huge challenge to restrict the annual growth in health care spending to no more than the total growth in the state’s economy, as the new law demands.  For 2013, the benchmark is 3.6 percent.  Seltz, on the job for just two months, is confident the goal will be met.

The law does not mandate reductions in insurance rates or government reimbursements to healthcare providers. It calls for a gradual change in the volume driven fee-for-service payment system to one that is based on outcomes.  It provides incentives for wellness programs and funding for pilot programs to encourage innovations that led to lower costs without sacrificing quality.

Seltz said making the health care system more efficient, and ridding it of fraud and abuse could reduce costs by as much as 30 percent.

A priority for the new agency is to make the healthcare system more transparent so people can shop for value.  

The cost containment Massachusetts is undertaking comes against the backdrop of changes in health are mandated by the federal  Affordable Care Act.   Seltz does not believe the state’s efforts and the federal reforms will clash.

Jeff Ciuffreda, President of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield said meeting with Seltz helped reassure him the state is on the right course

Spending on healthcare in Massachusetts increased by 59 percent in the last decade and was projected to more than double in the next 10 years, without the cost containment efforts          

Seltz also toured Mercy Medical Center in Springfield.  The hospital has initiated a pilot program in managing patient care.   Dan Keenan,  Senior Vice President of Government Relations with the Sisters of Providence Health Systems, which operates Mercy,  said the program involves tracking patients from the moment they enter the hospital.

A dilemma facing Massachusetts is how to curb the growth of costs without harming the healthcare industry, which is one of the state’s largest employers.  

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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