By Jordan Weinstein | Thursday, June 14, 2012
June 14, 2012
BOSTON — A new report from a leading land-use think tank warns that by the end of the decade, Boston’s subways could grow so packed that trains would roll past waiting commuters, unable to accommodate more riders.
The study from the Urban Land Institute finds that surging T ridership and booming construction around transit stations are poised to overwhelm the MBTA, potentially limiting future development and slowing the regional economy. Stephanie Pollack, the lead author of the study and a professor at Northeastern University, said the problem for the T is money.
By Sarah Birnbaum | Tuesday, June 12, 2012
June 13, 2012
BOSTON — A national survey of governors' budgets released on June 12 shows Massachusetts tax revenues are finally projected to hit pre-recession levels in the fiscal year that starts in July. But Gov. Deval Patrick is still taking a tight-fisted approach to budgeting.
The Fiscal Survey of States is published twice annually by the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) and the National Governors Association. It shows that Massachusetts is one of 25 states in which, despite more robust revenue growth, the executive branch isn't ramping up spending to match. Tax revenues are expected to go up by 3.1 percent in Massachusetts next year but Patrick is only proposed raising spending by 2.9 percent.
Scott Pattison of NASBO said Patrick seems to be taking a conservative approach to budgeting because of uncertainty in the European and U.S. economies. Pattison said that's in keeping with the national trend: "Governors have been very cautious fiscally, and I believe prudent, to be providing a cushion and prepared for a rather tepid growth."
Even though the economy is improving in Massachusetts, the survey authors said big challenges still loom. The federal government is scheduled to make another round of deep budget cuts in January 2013. If those cuts go forward, they would directly hit the state budget in the form of reductions in grant programs.
And even though there’s some revenue growth and some spending growth, the rate is very slow. At the same time, there’s no political appetite for tax hikes. So, the study concludes, state revenue improvement since the recession hasn’t been enough to meet the rise in demand for state services and spending over the past 2 years.
By Anne Mostue | Thursday, May 31, 2012
June 1, 2012
BOSTON — Adding to its car, refrigerator and laptop reviews, Consumer Reports is now evaluating groups of primary care doctors. And it's starting with Massachusetts.
Consumer Reports subscribers in Massachusetts will soon receive an insert in their monthly magazine rating 500 adult, family and pediatric group practices in the state. Only practices with three or more physicians are evaluated, and doctors' individual names are left out.
Consumer Reports teamed up with Massachusetts Health Quality Partners, which has been publishing similar data based on patient surveys since 2006, according to Partners' director Barbra Rabson.
> > SEARCH: for your doctor in the rankings
"We've been measuring for quite a number of years and we've fed the data back to our physicians. We've also put the data on our website but we've always been disappointed in the traffic. We realize we'll never be a household name," she said.
More than 60,000 patients were asked questions ranging from the length of time they waited for test results to the friendliness of their doctor and office staff.
John Santa is a former doctor and now director of Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.
"This is a first for us," he said. "We have worked with the Society of Thoracic Surgeons to publish ratings of heart surgeons nationally but we've never published primary care doctor ratings and we've never focused on one region and it's another reason why we're very interested to hear what our Massachusetts subscribers think."
Soon, Consumer Reports will publish its findings on primary care practices in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The publication says it expects and welcomes feedback from subscribers and, of course, doctors.
> > DOWNLOAD: the ratings data from MHQP (pdf)
By Abbie Ruzicka | Friday, May 25, 2012
May 25, 2012
BOSTON — As the number of prisoners growing old behind bars increases at an alarming rate, correctional facilities across the country are scrambling to come up with the resources for the care of elderly prisoners. Older prisoners often require special care, which drives up the cost of incarceration.
The national population of prisoners age 65 or older has grown by 63 percent, while the general prison population has grown by just 1 percent, said Jamie Fellner, the author of the Human Rights Watch report Old Behind Bars.
This could be a reflection of the longer sentences prisoners are serving, decreased opportunity for parole, more people entering the prison system at older ages and the fact that people in general are living longer, Fellner said.
“There’s this kind of knee-jerk response — 'We don’t want to let people out of prisons.' We need to shift the conversation to how do we keep the public safe and ensure accountability but not senselessly and needlessly keep all these [prisoners], who can’t go anywhere or do anything, behind bars at great cost to the public,” she said.
Though elderly prisoners represent only 6 percent of the 24,000 people in the correctional system in Massachusetts, the cost of their care is much higher than the general prison population, criminal justice reporter Beth Schwartzapfel said.
Aging inmates often require special medical treatment, which drives up the cost of incarceration. For prisoners age 80 or older, the cost of their medical care averages around $40,000 per year, according to national estimates.
For Massachusetts inmates who need help with day-to-day care, there is currently a total of 29 beds available at two separate Massachusetts Activities of Daily Living Units in Massachusetts, Schwartzapfel said. The state will need about 900 additional beds by 2020.
> > READ: Beth Schwartzapfel's article from Boston Magazine
By Bob Seay | Thursday, May 17, 2012
May 17, 2012
BOSTON — The Massachusetts unemployment rate dipped to 6.3 percent in April from 6.5 percent in March. It's the lowest level since October 2008.
While the state added 2,500 jobs last month, there's a renewed call for a major investment in higher education to create more jobs. A new study has found that an $800 million investment in higher education in the state would essentially pay for itself.
Co-author Michael Ash, head of economics at UMass Amherst, said that investment would produce an extra 11,200 graduates, 7,000-8,000 new jobs and $740 million in new income tax revenue. It's a better payoff, Ash said, than cutting taxes or putting the same dollars into casinos. In fact, he claimed that cutting taxes produces the worst results.
By Jordan Weinstein | Tuesday, May 1, 2012
May 2, 2012
BOSTON — There's been a hopeful development in the fight against one form of cancer. Sarcoma is rare in adults but rather prevalent in children. For the first time in 30 years, a drug to treat soft-tissue sarcoma has been approved by the FDA. The news coincides with a fundraiser this Saturday in Hudson to raise money for the Jennifer Hunter Yates Sarcoma Foundation. WGBH News' Jordan Weinstein talked with Dr. Edwin Choy from Massachusetts General Hospital to see how fundraisers like these generate awareness and money. Choy said the foundation led the way.