Massachusetts governor's next task: Tame healthcare costs

Having won a second term, Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts is moving on to the next phase of healthcare reform: reining in runaway healthcare costs.

Medical spending in the state rose about 7.5 percent annually over the last few years, far outpacing inflation, because a large portion of the care is provided by Boston's academic medical centers, instead of less pricey community hospitals, the Boston Globe reports. And the cost burden small businesses face of absorbing double-digit premium increases is both shocking and unsustainable, according to the Worcester Business Journal.

"Just as Massachusetts has been several years ahead of the country in healthcare reform, we are several years ahead in the problems of healthcare reform," John Sullivan, research director for healthcare investment bank Leerink Swann in Boston, told the Globe. "Now Deval Patrick is going to have to figure out how to pay for it."

In fact, the biggest area of debate is whether to regulate the price of healthcare, according to JudyAnn Bigby, state secretary of health and human services. A group of stakeholders that she convened--including providers, insurers, and consumers--has disagreed over whether the price should be regulated. And some say you can't control health costs unless you regulate the price, she said.

Patrick is getting set to advance a "global payment" plan, which would replace the traditional "fee-for-service" system. Providers would be expected to arrange themselves into accountable care organizations to coordinate care and distribute payments. Doctors and hospitals would be put on an annual budget for each patient's care.

Massachusetts could be a leader in reining in healthcare costs, James Roosevelt Jr., CEO of Tufts Health Plan in Watertown and a member of the panel weighing payment overhauls, told the Globe. "The big question about the national bill, just like ours, is how we're going to be able to afford it," he said. "And while they're bickering about it in Washington, we're doing something about it."

To learn more:
- read the Boston Globe article
- read the Worcester Business Journal article

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