- Massachusetts Health Policy Commission
Media Contact for HPC REFLECTS ON CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES IN THE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM AT ANNUAL COST TRENDS HEARING
Matthew Kitsos, Press Secretary
Boston — Last week, the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission (HPC) hosted its 9th Annual Health Care Cost Trends Hearing, titled “The Imperative for Cost Containment, Affordability, and Equity: Reimagining Health Care in the Context of COVID-19 and Beyond.” Health care experts, public officials, private industry leaders, and health care stakeholders convened to discuss challenges and opportunities to improve health care in the Commonwealth during two witness panels. Materials from the hearing are available on the HPC's website, including the keynote presentation from Dr. Leemore Dafny of the Harvard Business School, the HPC presentation on health care spending and affordability in Massachusetts, and the program book with information on all participants. A full recording of the hearing is available on the HPC's YouTube Channel, including remarks from Governor Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey.
The theme of the hearing was examining the intersecting challenges of cost containment, affordability, and health equity in Massachusetts to identify policy solutions and commit to shared accountability. The hearing also highlighted the findings and policy recommendations from the HPC’s 2021 Annual Health Care Cost Trends Report and Policy Recommendations, which can be found on the HPC’s website here. In advance of the hearing, 30 health care organizations were required to submit written pre-filed testimony. The key themes from the provider responses included health disparities, demand for behavioral health services, financial challenges, workforce shortages, and a shift to telehealth. Key themes from health plan responses included an increase in telehealth, demand for behavioral health, deferred care, and health equity. Both providers and payers discussed the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-filed testimony submissions are available here.
Opening Remarks and Keynote Address
Governor Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey provided opening remarks at the hearing. Governor Baker highlighted the Baker-Polito Administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Commonwealth’s vaccine rollout, early efforts to vaccinate frontline health care workers, and efforts to increase access and awareness in the hardest hit communities through the COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Initiative. Governor Baker also addressed how the pandemic prompted comprehensive reforms to the health care system in Massachusetts, including insurance coverage of telehealth and rate parity, expanding scope of practice, and protecting consumers from surprise billing. The governor also highlighted his proposed legislation aimed at incentivizing primary care and investing in behavioral health. Governor Baker’s full remarks can be found here.
Attorney General Healey focused on many of the key challenges facing the Commonwealth, including inequity, racial injustice, and imbalances that exist in the health care system – particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic shed a light on these disparities. Attorney General Healey underscored that our health care system is at an “inflection point” and highlighted the importance of coming together to develop policy solutions that confront these challenges. She noted the importance of addressing behavioral health issues, including emergency department boarding, the need to increase access to services for all residents, and the current inefficient and expensive system. Finally, Attorney General Healey also discussed the urgent need to support access to care for underserved communities through increased investment in safety net hospitals in gateway cities and spoke about the cost of care for the Commonwealth’s residents, which, as the HPC has previously reported, is becoming increasingly expensive. Attorney General Healey’s full remarks can be found here.
Dr. Leemore Dafny, the Bruce V. Rauner Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, was the keynote speaker and delivered a presentation entitled, “Wronged by Wrong Prices: Protecting Consumers in Healthcare Markets.” Dr. Dafny’s presentation focused on health care prices, specifically price variation, the impact on the health care system in Massachusetts, and what can be done to address the issue. Findings from the presentation include that the U.S. pays higher prices for hospital services, patients pay different prices for the same services within the same market, and that Massachusetts has significant price variation. Dr. Dafny examined how “wrong” prices impact the market, including the allocation of resources and how prices drive higher premiums, deductibles and lead to poor health choices and inequity. Dr. Dafny suggested that the Commonwealth take steps to address the issue, including reforms to negotiate lower prices for drugs and services, and implementing price caps, specifically on outpatient hospital services. Dr. Dafny’s full slide presentation can be found here. The video of her keynote can be found here.
David Seltz, Executive Director at the HPC and Dr. David Auerbach, HPC’s Senior Director of Research and Cost Trends, shared findings on “Health Care Spending and Affordability in Massachusetts”, laying the foundation for the panel discussions. Their presentation examined the interconnected challenges in the Massachusetts health care system of excessive costs, unaffordable care, and persistent inequities that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The full presentation can be found here.
Witness Panel 1: The Perspectives of Health System Leaders on The Challenges of Cost Containment, Affordability, and Equity
The panel discussion, moderated by the HPC Board’s Vice-Chair, Commissioner Marty Cohen, included leadership representatives of the largest health care providers and payers in Massachusetts, and focused on policies that the Commonwealth could adopt to control unsustainable health care spending growth. The panelists highlighted the need to prioritize the health care workforce, support low-growth providers and constrain high-growth providers, enhance hospital oversight, and address out-of-network spending. HPC Board Chair Dr. Stuart Altman challenged the panel to help find a way for Massachusetts to maintain the highest quality of care while reducing spending growth.
Witness Panel 2: The Imperative for Policy Action on Cost Containment, Affordability, and Equity
Moderated by Commissioner Barbara Blakeney, Chair of the HPC’s Care Delivery Transformation policy committee, during the second panel, participants and HPC commissioners discussed affordability of health care and how to address the issue, including establishing a consumer benchmark, addressing the rate filing process, helping patients with chronic conditions by lowering or eliminating co-pays and out-of-pocket costs. Panelists noted that families were facing challenges prior to the pandemic and these challenges have been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Panelists also discussed important policy priority areas for the HPC, including social determinants of health, health equity, and prescription drug costs.
A recording of the hearing can be found on the HPC's YouTube Channel.