For Immediate Release - May 06, 2013

Patrick-Murray Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation and Suffolk University Law School’s Rappaport Center Host Conference on Empowering Healthcare Consumers

BOSTON – Consumers, business people, regulators, and healthcare leaders from around the state gathered today in Boston to discuss ways to empower healthcare consumers and increase transparency as part of the next key steps to implementing the state’s landmark cost containment law signed in August 2012 by Governor Deval Patrick. The conference, “Empowering Healthcare Consumers: A Community Conversation,” was co-hosted by the Patrick-Murray Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation and Suffolk University Law School’s Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service.

“We need more robust competition among providers and carriers to drive down health care costs, and price and quality transparency can help these efforts enormously,” said Greg Bialecki, the Secretary of Housing and Economic. “We will continue to work on improving affordability and transparency until it matches our nation-leading levels of access.”

“Today’s conference continues the initiatives taken by Governor Patrick to bring health care costs down and increase quality across the Commonwealth,” said Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs Barbara Anthony. “Health care consumer empowerment is integral to this process. I hope that this dialogue marks the beginning of a fundamental shift in consumers’ attitudes toward their own health care decision making. Patients are consumers and they have a right to price and quality transparency before making health care treatment choices. There is no place for secrecy if we are ever to really bring down health care costs.”

“The Rappaport Center was thrilled to host this multi-media, multi-format program, which provoked participation and reflection from all in attendance and will hopefully influence the way consumers and policymakers look at health care spending,” said Gregory I. Massing, Executive Director of the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk University Law School. “This conference has set a new standard for future public policy forums.”

Today’s conference was sparked by the cost containment legislation signed into law in August 2012 by Governor Patrick. The law aims to achieve savings by setting a first-in-the-nation target for controlling the growth of health care costs, capping spending relative to the growth of the Gross State Product and by requiring government agencies and encouraging the private sector to use global payments or alternative payments in order to improve quality and reduce costs for Massachusetts residents.

Additionally, the law mandates an increase in transparency, requiring that all insurers operating in the Commonwealth offer a way for consumers to comparatively shop around for healthcare services. By Oct. 1, 2013, Massachusetts insurers must provide a toll-free number and website that enables consumers to request and obtain accurate price information for various medical procedures. Providers must offer similar services by early 2014. Regulators, who have been meeting for months with stakeholders on the transparency requirements, are trying to encourage consumers to compare health care quality and costs for office visits and routine procedures at hospitals and health centers across the state.

The conference featured a nine-member stakeholder panel, which was moderated by WBUR’s Martha Bebinger. Panelists included:

James Roosevelt, Chairman, Massachusetts Association of Health Plans

Jon Hurst, President, Retailers Association of Massachusetts

Dolores Mitchell, Executive Director, Group Insurance Commission

Dr. Eugene Lindsey, President and CEO, Atrius Health

David Seltz, Executive Director, Health Policy Commission

Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, Executive Director, Health Care for All

Deborah Devaux, Senior VP for Network and Service Integration, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

Lynn Nicholas, FACHE, President and CEO, Massachusetts Hospital Association

Joseph Murphy, Commissioner, Division of Insurance  

The 90-minute discussion focused on how pricing and information transparency can bring about more robust competition in the Massachusetts healthcare marketplace. Specifically, panelists were grilled about how openness about pricing is changing the way they do business and what their plans are for helping consumers use these new tools in a meaningful way.

To better understand how residents may use these new cost transparency tools, the Office of Consumer Affairs partnered with Mass Insight for their annual poll to discover how consumers are seeking out price information about their healthcare. The findings were announced at today’s conference.

The results show that Massachusetts consumers overwhelmingly want greater access to healthcare cost information, are comfortable talking with their providers about costs, and are eager to compare costs between different providers when making decisions about where to receive care:

  • 89 percent agree that “It is important that I know how much my medical care will cost ahead of time.”
  • 73 percent agree that they are currently “able to get useful information about my out-of-pocket costs in advance.”
  • 79 percent agree that “I’d like to be able to go to a website to compare the costs of receiving medical services from different doctors and hospitals.”
  • 81 percent agree that “I would feel comfortable discussing the cost of my medical care with my doctor.”
  • 67 percent agree that “If I could compare the prices of different doctors or hospitals, it would affect my choices about where to receive care.”

Dr. Leana Wen, an ER Physician at MGH/Brigham and Women’s Hospital and co-author of “When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to be an Empowered Patient and Advocate for Better Health,” gave the keynote address about the challenges healthcare consumers sometimes face in the doctor’s office and steps they can take to demystify interactions with the healthcare system.

“Today's healthcare consumer is faced with so many choices – and challenges,” said Wen. “This conference will empower consumers to be their own best advocates so that they can get the medical care that they deserve.”

A working group session was held at the end of the day to take the participants’ temperature on consumer attitudes toward healthcare prices. The conference featured a small group exercise where healthcare industry experts facilitated discussions around healthcare consumers’ decision-making. Participants were given a scenario in which a health care consumer is seeking medical attention for an injured knee and was referred to an orthopedic surgeon recommending an anterior cruciate ligament surgery.

Participants were also given a list of hospitals with criteria regarding quality of care, such as patient rating and cost of surgery. The scenario presented many questions to participants who are challenged to think about what matters the most to healthcare consumers. Factors examined included quality of care, cost, and prestige of hospital.

The results of those sessions will be available on the Consumer Affairs website in the next month.

Today’s conference was the first in a series of community conversations the Office of Consumer Affairs is planning to host on this issue. Additional dates will follow later this year.

Today’s conference was co-sponsored by:

Aetna

Association Industries of Massachusetts

Athena Health Care

Atrius Health

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

Group Insurance Commission

Health Care for All

Health Law Advocates

Massachusetts Association of Health Plans

Massachusetts Center for Health Information and Analysis

Massachusetts Division of Insurance

Massachusetts Health Council

Massachusetts Health Policy Commission

Massachusetts Hospital Association

Retailers Association of Massachusetts

Steward Health Care System

Suffolk Law School Health and Biomedical Law Concentration

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education, and also works to ensure that the businesses its agencies regulate treat all Massachusetts consumers fairly. Follow the Office at its blog, on Facebook and on Twitter @Mass_Consumer