September 23, 2015

Workers push health care pricing bill at hearing, Baker opposed

Health care workers on Tuesday spoke out in favor of a proposed bill, which proponents say will reduce health care spending while boosting community hospitals, during a legislative hearing before the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.

Titled "An Act Relative to Equitable Health Care Pricing," the bill was filed in April by Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, with heavy support from the health care workers union 1100 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.

The union and other bill supporters say the current hospital payment system gives an advantage to large providers, which have an edge in negotiating pricing with insurance companies because of their size.

If passed, the bill would require private insurers to negotiate new contracts with high-price providers, which supporters say would level the playing field. Prices could be no more than 20 percent higher than the average amount paid to other providers for the same services. Meanwhile, a pricing floor would be set so that safety-net hospitals that care for a large number of low-income patients would be paid no more than 10 percent lower than the average prices for the same services.

The Massachusetts Hospital Association and major hospitals have opposed the bill. Executive vice president Tim Gens told the Boston Business Journal in June that state regulation of health care pricing represents a government overreach.

Baker calls for price transparency

Gov. Charlie Baker is also opposed. Baker spoke at Thursday's hearing, saying that regulation is not the answer to reducing health care spending, according to the State House News Service. But he did push for making pricing information publicly available. Currently, prices negotiated between hospitals and private insurers are confidential.

"There are very few examples that I can find anywhere of where price regulation has worked as well as full-blown transparency. You want to create pressure on people to solve a price problem, throw a little sunshine on it. That'll move it a lot faster and a lot farther," Baker said, though he did not commit to vetoing the bill.

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