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AG selects overseer of hospitals, insurers

Mary Beckman most recently worked at Children’s Hospital. Mary Beckman most recently worked at Children’s Hospital. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Robert Weisman
Globe Staff / August 29, 2011

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The state attorney general’s office is set to disclose today that it has hired a Boston lawyer to lead its division that oversees most Massachusetts hospitals and health insurers, a powerful regulatory post at a time of sweeping changes in the health care industry.

Mary Beckman, 47, most recently the compliance officer and a lawyer in the general counsel’s office at Children’s Hospital in Boston, was tapped as chief of the attorney general’s nonprofit and public charities division, which regulates about 22,000 nonprofit organizations across the state. She replaces David Spackman, who held the job for about four years.

Attorney General Martha Coakley said that Beckman, as division chief, will continue to focus on issues such as health care costs and affordability, and ensure the public interest is safeguarded in the wave of consolidation among hospitals and insurers.

“All these mergers - past, present, and future - raise other issues for us: antitrust issues, access, and affordability issues,’’ Coakley said in an interview. “Mary’s challenge is going to be to provide the judgment and expertise to see problems ahead of time and, when appropriate, do an investigation.’’

The nonprofit and public charities division has been active on a range of issues under Spackman, holding hearings on the proposed conversion of nonprofit hospitals to for-profits, investigating board oversight of hospital and insurance chief executives, and examining board fees at nonprofit organizations. Most recently, it conducted an investigation that found that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts weakened the authority of its board when it gave a $4.2 million severance to its former chief executive, Cleve L. Killingsworth.

Last year, the division recommended that the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts approve the sale of financially struggling Caritas Christi Health Care to private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, converting it to an investor-owned system. But it imposed multiple conditions aimed at protecting employees and patients at Caritas hospitals.

Separately, through the health care division at her office, Coakley has released two studies documenting the disparity in how much different providers are paid by health plans for essentially the same health care services. Those reports have intensified pressure on insurers and lawmakers to change the way hospitals and doctors are paid.

Beckman, who lives in Milton, is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Yale Law School. In her role at Children’s Hospital, she worked on conflict-of-interest issues, billing compliance rules, and industry relations. Previously, she served as the state’s assistant secretary for health policy from 1999 to 2002, providing guidance on hospital closings and nursing home receiverships.

In a prepared statement, Beckman said she looked forward to working with Coakley on a number of issues, “including the important effort to create more transparency around issues of board and executive compensation.’’

Coakley said the nonprofit and antitrust division has taken on a high profile in a state where nonprofit institutions, such as hospitals, insurers, universities, and foundations, make up a large part of the economy. The health care sector will continue to be a focus, she said.

“Massachusetts is unique in the sense that we want to insure everybody and we want to contain costs,’’ Coakley said. “And the AG’s office plays an extraordinarily important role in ensuring those goals are met.’’

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com.