December 25, 2017
Economic Forecast 2018

Growing pains will continue for the healthiest state in 2018

Tarek Elsawy, CEO of Reliant Medical Group, which is set to be acquired by global health company Optum in 2018.

This month, a rankings report published by the United Health Foundation, dubbed Massachusetts as America's overall healthiest state. Advantages include a low uninsurance rate, a low obesity rate and a relatively high number of mental health providers.

As the ranking notes, challenges remain. There are pockets of underserved people who don't have good access to providers, as well as a high rate of drug overdose deaths and too many preventable hospitalizations.

Providers like Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer participating in the Massachusetts ACO program are expected to see more patient volume.

These strengths and challenges will continue to drive the constant evolution of the the healthcare landscape in Central Massachusetts in the year ahead. Here's what to expect.

More consolidation

Merger and acquisition activity in the healthcare industry has boomed across the U.S. in the last several years, and Massachusetts has been host to a number of those deals, some of which are still unfolding. This year, Reliant Medical Group and UnitedHealth Group subsidiary Optum agreed to merge in 2018, and a Tennessee company is planning to acquire AdCare Hospital of Worcester. On Oct. 1, HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster and Clinton Hospital, both owned by the UMass Memorial Health Care system, merged. These deals won't be the last, as local providers look for larger partners with the means to innovate, or to strengthen their position by linking up with local competitors.

Volume shifts

With the creation accountable care organizations in the Massachusetts Medicaid program in 2018, MassHealth patients will receive their care within narrow networks of providers, for both primary and specialty care. Because UMass Memorial Health Care, the dominant provider in Central Massachusetts, is not participating, they could lose some Medicaid patients.

Legislative shakeup

Legislative efforts could set new precedents for local health care. Nurses are advocating for mandated nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in acute-care hospitals in a 2018 ballot campaign, and lawmakers are reviewing a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide. Meanwhile, new regulations for homecare providers, and creation of a new class of dental providers to expand access to care are under review.

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