For Immediate Release - October 24, 2013

Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation and UMASS Medical Center Host Second Conference on Empowering Healthcare Consumers

WORCESTER – Consumers, business representatives, regulators, and healthcare leaders from around the state gathered today in Worcester to discuss ways to empower healthcare consumers and increase transparency, the next key steps to implementing the state’s landmark cost containment law. The conference, Empowering Healthcare Consumers: A Community Conversation Part II, was co-hosted by the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) and the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.  

“With virtually every resident insured, Massachusetts leads the nation in providing access to quality healthcare to its consumers,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki. “We will continue to help residents and businesses by working on improving affordability and transparency until it equals our unmatched levels of access.”

“I don’t know how to make a computer or build an automobile, but before I buy one, I first investigate and compare price and quality among several brands,” said Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Undersecretary Barbara Anthony. “We want consumers to start thinking this way about their healthcare decisions and felt it was important to discuss how to increase healthcare consumer empowerment. The Cost Containment Law gave us the tools we need to drive down costs and measure quality, now we must start educating consumers on how to use them.”

“Once again, Massachusetts is leading the nation in making the healthcare conversation not only about quality and cost, but also about consumer confidence in the basis for both of those measures,” said Michael F. Collins, MD, Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, which is hosting the event. “The more patients know about their healthcare system, the better they are able to be thoughtful consumers of healthcare services.  The physicians and advanced practice nurses we train here want to provide care to ‘health literate’ patients, who understand the real costs and benefits of the doctor visit, of preventive care, of early and accurate diagnosis and treatment and the value of a transparent and smoothly functioning health care system.”

The healthcare cost containment law, signed by Governor Deval Patrick in August 2012, aims to achieve savings by setting a first-in-the-nation target for controlling the growth of healthcare costs, capping spending relative to the growth of the Gross State Product, and requiring government agencies and encouraging the private sector to use global payments or alternative payments to improve quality and reduce costs for Massachusetts healthcare consumers.

Additionally, the law increases transparency by requiring all insurers operating in the Commonwealth to offer a way for consumers to comparatively shop around for healthcare services. Since October 1, Massachusetts insurers have been required to provide a toll-free number or website that enables consumers to request and obtain accurate price information for various medical procedures within 48 hours. Providers must offer similar services starting in January 2014. Regulators, who have been meeting for months with stakeholders about these transparency requirements, are encouraging consumers to use these tools to compare healthcare quality and costs for routine office visits and procedures at hospitals and health centers across the state.

The conference featured a nine-member stakeholder panel, moderated by WCVB’s Susan Wornick. Panelists included:

Eric Schultz, President and CEO, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care

Patrick Hughes, President and CEO, Fallon Community Health Plan

Dolores Mitchell, Executive Director, Group Insurance Commission

David Morales, Vice President of Public Policy and Strategic Planning, Steward Healthcare

Barbara Anthony, Undersecretary, Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation

Patrick Muldoon, President, UMass Memorial Medical Center; Chair, Massachusetts Hospital Association

Armin Ernst, MD, President and CEO,Reliant Medical Group

Kristen Lepore, Vice President of Government Affairs, Associated Industries of Massachusetts

The 90-minute discussion, which can be viewed here, focused on how to empower consumers to make better healthcare decisions and successfully utilize the new information available. Panelists were questioned about how transparency in pricing is changing the way they do business, what their plans are for helping consumers use these new tools in a meaningful way, and the lessons learned as providers start to implement these cost and quality comparison tools.

This is the second conference OCABR has hosted on the issue. In May, the Office worked with the Rappaport Center at Suffolk University Law School to host a Boston conference centered on consumer patterns in healthcare decision-making and how to bring more robust competition to the healthcare marketplace. A full report of the findings from the May conference can be viewed on OCABR’s website.

A working group session was held at the end of the day to gauge consumer attitudes toward healthcare prices. Through a small group exercise, healthcare industry experts facilitated discussions around healthcare consumers’ decision-making and participants were given a scenario in which a consumer is seeking information about a rotator cuff surgery and was referred to an orthopedic surgeon recommending.

Participants were also given a list of hospitals with data regarding quality of care, including patient ratings and cost of surgery. The scenario presented many questions to challenge participants to think about what matters the most in their own healthcare decision-making. Factors examined included quality of care, cost, and prestige of hospital. The results of both sessions will be available on OCABR’s website.

Additionally, in an effort gain insight into how consumers are able to access cost comparison information from insurers, OCABR staff acted as secret shoppers over a three day period and presented their findings on video at the conference.  Employees were asked to compare costs for a tonsillectomy using their own insurance company’s website tool and phone number. Though most employees found their insurers willing to help, they also found it difficult to get the exact information they needed, especially to do a cost comparison. The full video can be viewed here.

Today’s conference was co-sponsored by:

Aetna

Anna Maria College’s Molly Bish Center for the Protection of Children and the Elderly

Associated Industries of Massachusetts

Atrius Health

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority

Fallon Community Health Plan

Group Insurance Commission

Health Care For All

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care

Health Law Advocates

Lahey Health System

Massachusetts Association of Health Plans

Massachusetts Association of Health Underwriters

Massachusetts Center for Health Information and Analysis

Massachusetts Division of Insurance

Massachusetts Health Policy Commission

Massachusetts Health Quality Partners

Massachusetts Hospital Association

Massachusetts Medical Society

Retailers Association of Massachusetts

Steward Health Care System

Tufts Health Plan

UMass Memorial Health Care

Vanguard Health Systems

Worcester Interfaith

Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce

OCABR 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