- Massachusetts Health Policy Commission
Media Contact for HPC SETS HEALTH CARE COST GROWTH TARGET AT 3.6% FOR 2024
BOSTON — The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission (HPC) yesterday set the Massachusetts Health Care Cost Growth Benchmark for calendar year 2024 at 3.6%. The benchmark is a statewide target for the rate of growth of total health care expenditures (THCE) that is indexed to a projection of the Commonwealth’s long-term economic growth.
THCE is defined as the annual per capita sum of all health care expenditures from public and private sources. The benchmark does not cap price or spending growth but is designed as a measurable goal to track the state’s progress and to motivate collective action to moderate spending growth over time.
On March 15, 2023, the HPC held a public hearing regarding the potential modification of the benchmark with members of the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health Care Financing to examine recent data around cost trends and received testimony on health care spending and cost trends, and the affordability implications of these trends, from more than 12 stakeholder organizations.
“As was made clear in the testimony at the benchmark hearing, residents of the Commonwealth continue to face tremendous affordability pressures due to inflation and other follow-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Deb Devaux, HPC Board Chair. “Establishing the Health Care Cost Growth Benchmark reaffirms the state’s commitment to constraining excessive health care cost growth and advancing affordability for everyone in Massachusetts. The benchmark represents a goal; a call to action to all industry stakeholders to work collaboratively to address the factors driving high spending growth.”
This is the seventh year that the HPC has had the authority to modify the benchmark, pursuant to the public hearing process and engagement with the state’s Legislature. Massachusetts has averaged annual THCE growth of 3.52% over the last nine years, lower than PGSP, which has been set at 3.6% in every year of the process, but slightly above the average annual benchmark of 3.37%.
“Our health care system faces serious and complex issues in the form of workforce pressures and ongoing disparities in access and health outcomes which were exposed and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said David Seltz, HPC Executive Director. “Having a clear target for constraining spending growth is crucial in this moment of uncertainty and gives the entire system a clear goal to work towards. However, the unique pressures facing residents and small businesses in this moment underscore the importance of additional policy action to expand the state’s cost containment approach to meet the novel challenges facing our health care system.”
The HPC’s 2022 Health Care Cost Trends Report details a set of six recommendations to improve state oversight and accountability of health care spending. A recording of the benchmark hearing is available on the HPC’s YouTube page. All presentations are available on the HPC’s website.
Health Care Workforce Event Recap and Discussion
At the meeting, commissioners discussed the health care workforce event, Building a Robust Health Care Workforce in Massachusetts: Findings, Challenges, and Opportunities, held on March 29, 2023, at Suffolk University Law School. The event focused on the critical challenges facing the health care workforce in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and identified priorities for future policy action. A recording, event materials, the HPC’s health care workforce chartpack of findings and policy recommendations, and the accompanying HPC Short, are available on the HPC’s website.
Two panel discussions featured prominent speakers from the across the health care industry continuum, providing insights on the state of the health care workforce, shared experiences, and potential policy solutions in an evolving post-COVID-19 environment.
As part of the discussion at yesterday’s Board meeting, commissioners highlighted key themes that arose from the panel discussions held during the event, including:
- Urgent action needed to reduce labor shortages;
- Use of contracted and temporary staff is disruptive and affects morale of employed staff;
- Frontline essential workers must be included in the conversation;
- Developing and supporting a diverse workforce must be prioritized – racially, culturally, and linguistically – at every level from front line workers to leadership;
- Need for continued funding and investment, but also re-evaluation of how funding is spent;
- Collaboration and partnership across the care continuum; and
- The need for bold rethinking on solutions to break the cycle.
Commissioners outlined potential next steps for the HPC and the health care industry to work together, including:
- Examine other sectors of the health care workforce in future research, including primary and specialty care, community health centers, and physician burnout and shortages.
- Promote programs geared towards increasing the pipeline for a more diverse workforce representative of the patient populations served, including partnering with with educational institutions to increase the number of workers entering the health care system pipeline.
- Alleviate workforce pressures by addressing administrative burdens.
- Hold future convenings to continue discussions and planning for policy solutions to support the health care workforce, including statewide health planning efforts.
- Engage stakeholders in the workforce to include their voices in collaborating on solutions to improve working conditions and raise pay for low-wage workers.
- Enhance data collection and analysis, specifically utilizing CHIA’s new, upcoming Massachusetts Healthcare Workforce Survey to examine staffing, turnover, and workforce diversity.
- Collaborate with other organizations working to address the health care workforce issues such as the National Academy of Medicine and Massachusetts Health Equity Compact.
- Investigate solutions to address staff burnout and improve retention.
Office of Patient Protection Regulation and SHIFT-Care Evaluation Results
Commissioners also approved a new regulation for the Office of Patient Protection (OPP), 958 CMR 3.000, Health Insurance Consumer Protection, pursuant to Chapter 177 of the Acts of 2022 (Chapter 177), also known as the ABC Mental Health Act, which amended the law regarding the health plan internal grievance process, the external review process, and health plan compliance with mental health parity requirements. More information, including the regulation, a recording of the public hearing on the proposed regulation, and submitted written testimony, can be found here.
Commissioners also previewed evaluation results for the SHIFT-Care Challenge Track 1 initiatives, which aimed to address health-related social needs and increase access to timely behavioral health services, with the goal of decreasing the use of costly and avoidable hospital care. Six organizations – Baystate Health Care Alliance, Boston Medical Center, Community Care Cooperative (C3), Hebrew SeniorLife, Holyoke Health Center, and Steward Health Care Network – implemented SHIFT-Care Track 1 programs. The final evaluation report will be posted on the HPC’s website.