NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 7, 2009

Phase two: Health care cost control

Stanley's committee to host public hearing on reform

By Katie Curley

NEWBURYPORT — Debate will begin tomorrow on a health care reform bill that would change the way Bay State residents receive and pay for their health care.

The first public hearing, on payment reform, will be at the Statehouse. The hearing is hosted by the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing co-chaired by state Rep. Harriett Stanley, D-West Newbury.

It's the second phase of the state's landmark 2006 health reform, which has been eyed as a potential model for the national health care system. But the costs to taxpayers, businesses and consumers have been unexpectedly high, and Stanley said it is important that officials get costs under control while maintaining quality health care for patients.

"Reform is extremely complicated and has to do with two important things: how health care is delivered and how it is paid for," Stanley said. "It is harder to get health care, and it is never cheaper than the year before."

Massachusetts' plan called for near universal coverage for the state's residents, and the latest figures show only about 2 percent of residents are uncovered. But the 2006 plan didn't adequately address ways to control costs.

Stanley has been holding work sessions with stakeholders in health care reform, such as Anna Jaques Hospital President Delia O'Connor, since August.

"We've held 43 work sessions, and each one has lively conversations," Stanley said. "It will be interesting to see what people say in public (at the hearing)."

While the hearing is this week, work has been ongoing for many months to get people talking about reform, Stanley said. In addition, Stanley has and will continue to hold work sessions at community hospitals such as Lawrence General, Beverly Hospital and Anna Jaques to talk to health care professionals in their work environment.

"I would like to see us get to a payment-for-results system," Stanley said, noting there is currently not enough focus on preventative medicine and testing. "Right now, we have a payment-for-service fee. If we went to payment for results, it would get hospitals to do more preventative work. So over time, there would be less bad things happening."

Things like co-pays would be dropped for people who go to the doctor for preventative care. Fewer necessary trips would solicit higher co-pays.

"It's most valuable for me to be out in the community talking to doctors and nurses," Stanley said. "It makes sense to talk to them in their workplace and talk about what they need."

Georgia Maheras, the private market policy manager for Health Care For All, said her organization is thrilled with the opportunity to be testifying.

"We will be presenting a consumer perspective on reform," Maheras said. "Our focus is on ensuring patients who are vulnerable are taken care of and those cost savings somehow trickle down."

Maheras said Health Care for All has been attending each of the work sessions and feels invested in the process.

"There are at least eight to 10 pieces under reform," Maheras said. "We are appreciative of the joint committee's efforts to look at each piece thoughtfully to improve the quality of care with cost reductions necessary."