Health care bill sails in Senate

Friday, April 18
BOSTON — With the state's landmark health care reform law threatening to bleed state coffers, Senate lawmakers yesterday took a significant step toward reining in the long-term costs of providing health care in Massachusetts.

The Senate passed legislation, filed by Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, that would move the state toward electronic medical records by 2015 and standardized insurance claims for doctors by 2012.

The bill also imposes a ban on gifts to doctors from pharmaceutical companies carrying a $5,000 fine, eliminating a previous provision that would have imposed criminal penalties but requiring pharmaceutical representatives to be licensed by the Department of Public Health.

The law would make Massachusetts the first state to ban such gifts, seen by critics as driving up the cost of prescription drugs.

"This legislation is crucial to the future vitality of our health care system and our economy," Murray said.

"We need to get this legislation to the governor's desk as soon as possible, and I look forward to working with our friends in the House to get this done quickly. The cost of inaction is too great," she said, echoing a popular refrain of Gov. Deval L. Patrick.

The passage of the bill comes a day after Patrick filed a supplemental budget requesting an additional $153 million to cover the greater than anticipated cost of the state subsidized insurance program, Commonwealth Care.

More than 300,000 new people have signed up for insurance since the health care reform law was enacted.

"I'm not worried so much. On one hand it's been successful. We've insured a lot of people more than we expected, so our costs are higher now. We're victims of our own success, but we want to be the beneficiaries of that success down the road," said Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, chairman of Senate Ways and Means.

The transition to electronic medical records is estimated to cost $25 million — which the Senate is now committed to pay in its budget — but is expected to produce long-term savings. Part of the profits from a $1 hike in the state cigarette tax could be used to cover the initial cost.

The bill also includes a loan-forgiveness program for nurses, expands enrollment at state medical schools and allows patients to choose nurse practitioners as their primary care provider to increase access to medical treatment and reduce the burden on emergency rooms.


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