Health Commission to Weigh Cost Cutting – with Limited Powers

When other states open their health insurance exchanges next month as part of the Affordable Care Act, Massachusetts’ health policy commission will hold hearings on how to keep costs down. But the commission chair says its power is limited. 

Health care in America accounts for about 18 percent of the economy, and Massachusetts — with its top-ranked teaching hospitals and high-tech devices – is one of the most expensive states. That’s why the state legislature last year created a commission to recommend cost-cutting measures – as a continuation of Massachusetts’ 2005 health reform law. But commission chair Stuart Altman says it will have no regulatory teeth.

“Right now, our job is to encourage the private sector to do a better job, not to force them. And if they’re successful, there’s no need for the state to impose tighter regulations,” said Altman. “If it’s not successful, i think the legislature will have to reconsider whether they want to put a stronger force into the future.”

Altman also said the high prices for Massachusetts healthcare help subsidize medical research and training, and bolster the economy, especially in the Boston area. The commission’s goal is to bring the annual growth in health spending in line with general inflation. It’s currently about twice that amount.