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Mass. Senate President pledges health care changes

By Bob Salsberg
Associated Press / April 5, 2012
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BOSTON—Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray told business leaders Thursday that she expects passage by July 1 of a major health care bill aimed at saving billions of dollars for consumers and small businesses in the next decade.

Murray, D-Plymouth, told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce that she is committed to a payment reform plan that would move the health care industry away from a traditional fee-for-service approach toward a system that emphasizes preventive care and improved coordination between doctors.

"Reducing the growth in health care costs is critical to our economic competitiveness and must be addressed in a thoughtful way," the Senate leader said. "Annual double-digit health care costs increases outpace other expenses and strain the budgets of our businesses, out families, and our government."

The bill is still being drafted, Murray said, but she pledged action before senators take up the annual state budget.

Murray said the measure would establish independent oversight of the health care industry, improve the quality of care and increase accountability for providers. She estimated potential savings in tens of billions of dollars during the next 10 years.

The Senate president also proposed creating a fund that would help provide training and job security to workers during a "transition from the old health care jobs to the new jobs." The fund would offer expanded loan forgiveness to primary care and mental health providers and support training programs at community health centers.

She said the state could tap into its so-called Rainy Day reserve fund, or even use licensing fees that are expected to be generated by the state's new casino gambling law in the coming years, to fund a $20 million to $40 million workforce development effort that also would enhance the role community colleges play in providing training programs that meet the evolving needs of Massachusetts employers.

Gov. Deval Patrick first proposed in February 2010 that the state move toward a so-called global payment system to replace the fee-for-service approach. He said that while the state's first-in-the-nation universal health care law, signed in 2006 by his predecessor, Republican Mitt Romney, has dramatically improved access to health care, it had not addressed soaring costs.

Murray acknowledged the frustration expressed by Patrick and others over the slow pace of the bill, but said it is more important to get it right.

"We will not reach this goal overnight and it's critical that we carefully balance the need to aggressively transform the health care industry without causing harm to the number one employment sector in Massachusetts or to patient care," she said.

The head of the state's largest insurer said Murray's speech was a further indication that lawmakers were nearing consensus on cost containment.

"It's likely they are going to set an overall goal for the growth of health care costs," said Andrew Dreyfus, president and chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. "We have advocated that health care spending should grow no faster than the overall state's economy."

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