Our Opinion: By bill or ballot, hospital payment issue must be confronted


The wealth disparity between the state's wealthiest hospitals and community hospitals may be addressed by a ballot question. Foes may want to act in advance.

The referendum, backed by the Service Employees International Union, would address stark payment disparities between teaching hospitals and their lower-priced competitors by redistributing the wealth. The measure still needs to collect more signatures to make it on the November 8 ballot in Massachusetts.

Studies by the state Health Policy Commission and the office of Attorney General Maura Healey have found that some health care providers, generally the largest, are paid more than their competitors for providing essentially the same services and the same level of care. As the larger hospitals serve more patients, paying them this extra amount of money raises health care costs for everyone.

Partners Health Care, the parent company of Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women's hospitals in Boston and the state's biggest and most costly health system, would lose more than $400 million annually if the measure is approved, according to The Boston Globe. It opposes the question, of course, as does the influential Massachusetts Hospital Association. At a public hearing on Beacon Hill Tuesday, the for-profit Steward Health Care System, which would get an additional $21 million annually, endorsed the measure. At the hearing, Steward spokesperson Kim Bassett said the union's plan "may not be the ideal approach" but it would address the significant issue of low payments to community hospitals.

It isn't enough for Partners and other big health care systems in the state to oppose the measure because it will cost them money or because it smacks of socialism. The referendum is a response — not an ideal one as ballot questions rarely are — to a real, well-documented problem that is raising health care costs for everyone while depriving funds for financially struggling community hospitals whose patients deserve no less than those of major teaching hospitals.

The Massachusetts Council of Community Hospitals, while opposing the ballot measure, supports crafting legislation that will help its members. The large hospitals that oppose the ballot referendum should get behind this effort as well in the months ahead. Otherwise, they can take their chances with a referendum that is likely to find favor with voters in November.


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