Mass. lawmakers reach health care deal to save $200B

Tuesday July 31, 2012

BOSTON (AP) -- Massa chusetts House and Senate negotiators have filed the final version of a bill they say will save up to $200 billion in health care costs over the next 15 years and help guarantee the sustainability of the state's landmark 2006 health care law.

The bill rejects a proposed "luxury tax" for hospitals that charge more than 20 percent above the state median price for a service, but includes $135 million in grants to help community hospitals make the transition to new electronic medical records systems.

Another goal of the bill is to allow residents better access to their own medical records and cut down on unnecessary and expensive repeat medical testing.

Sen. Richard Moore, an Uxbridge Democrat and one of those working on the final bill, said another top aim of the bill is to set a cost growth goal close to the state's rate of inflation, far less than current year-to-year increases in insurance and medical costs.

"I think it's a very good bill," Moore said.

The bill would also encourage the creation of so-called "accountable care organizations" -- health care networks that take a more coordinated approach to medicine. There are already five accountable care organizations in Massachusetts.

Such organizations are considered key to the transition away from more piecemeal medical care that rewards doctors for each test or procedure to care that looks at the entire patient and the best way to maintain overall health.

Rep. Steven Walsh, D-Lynn, also worked on the final version of the sweeping bill and said he's confident it will benefit patients, health care providers and business -- which could see a reduction on the cost of health premiums. He said the bill should also win the approval of Gov. Deval Patrick, who has also made health care cost control a top priority.

"I'm very confident that the governor will sign this," Walsh said, noting that every member of the conference committee working on the compromise legislation -- both Democratic and Republican members -- signed off on the final bill.

Patrick told reporters mid-afternoon on Monday, that he hadn't seen the final language of the bill but that the administration was working closely with the conference committee charged with drafting the final bill.

The 342-page bill, which was filed late Monday, is expected to be voted on today, the final day of the Legislature's formal session.

That decision to wait until the absolute last minute before releasing the final version of such a complicated piece of legislation irked some lawmakers.

"I have a lot of concerns," Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said just hours before the final bill was filed. "I have concerns about being able to understand what's being put before us, not from an intellectual standpoint, but just from a substantive standpoint."


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