From the Summer 2014 issue of For Your Benefit pdf format of fybsummer2014.pdf
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Guest Editorial by Steve Walsh, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Community Hospitals

In 2012, the Massachusetts Legislature passed Chapter 224, our state’s health care payment reform law.  This legislation set a statutory requirement that the health care industry’s growth must not exceed our gross state product. However, an informed health care consumer is an equally integral part of bending the health care cost curve. It’s important that patients take control of their own personal health, and part of what makes for a healthy and informed consumer is knowing where to receive the most high-quality, low-cost care.  That’s where the role of Massachusetts’ community hospitals is most important.

We are fortunate that Massachusetts is home to arguably the best teaching hospitals in the world.  But, it is our community hospitals that are the backbone of our hospital system, providing high-quality health care in our own backyards.  These facilities care for a greater percentage of patients with public insurance (Medicare and Medicaid) and their emergency departments are often the first line of defense in an urgent care situation.  Community hospitals are a part of the fabric of our neighborhoods, driving our local economies and employing our families and friends.  It should be no surprise that four community hospitals were named 2014 Best Places to Work by the Boston Business Journal.

The Healthcare Equality and Affordability League’s 2014 study found that “patient migration” to higher-cost providers and teaching hospitals is helping to drive up premiums for commercially insured individuals and families.  These higher-cost hospitals are paid much higher rates than community hospitals for the same medical procedures, with no significant difference in quality according to the June 2011 Attorney General report on health care cost trends and drivers.

Unnecessary use of these higher-cost providers increases total medical expenses across the system, driving up health care costs for everyone. Not only do consumers pay more in premiums and co-pays, but we perpetuate a cycle that keeps community hospitals at a financial disadvantage.  The recent challenges of North Adams Regional Hospital is an example of how a community hospital shutting its doors can disrupt a local economy and leave a large region without the comprehensive medical services it so requires.

Do not take your local community hospital for granted.  The lesson is simple: use it, or risk losing it.  Our health care system, and your health, depend on it.

Steve Walsh is a former legislator and current Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Community Hospitals.  He served as House Chairman of the Committee on Health Care Financing and was a primary author of Chapter 224 of the Acts of 2012, Health Care Payment Reform. He currently resides with his family in Lynn.

This information provided by the Group Insurance Commission.