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State Leaders Put Heads Together To Try To Stop Mounting Health Costs

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Massachusetts policy makers met to address rising health-care costs.
Mike Deehan

Some of the state's top policy makers are trying to tackle one of government's most vexing questions: how to reign in health care costs that are dominating state spending while draining Baystaters' wallets.

With over a third of state spending going to subsidized health care, state leaders know that solving the cost conundrum will free up resources for everything else government does, like pay for education and transportation.

Healthcare's also a growing expense for employers—and workers who have to swallow ballooning premiums and co-pays. 

So Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey's office, leading Legislative Democrats and other experts in the field came before the Health Policy Commission Monday, the first of two days of discussions with healthcare stakeholders to try to identify why costs are rising and what to do about it.

Before the board, Baker called for the formation of a "collaborative agenda" with stakeholders and the medical community to devise a way to combat price pressures from things like prescription medications and skyrocketing provider costs.

When asked who in the medical field is successfully dealing with growing costs, Baker couldn't offer any examples.

"Well, I wouldn't have brought it up as an issue if I thought anybody was doing it well," Baker said. "I think we have a lot of work to do on this issue."

Baker wants the federal government to approve generic medications faster to keep prices down for consumers. 

Baker said too much of the state's conversation on health care pricing is among researchers and the healthcare community, and not geared toward consumers who would benefit from greater understanding of the market. 

"A lot of these reports are fascinating and they contain a lot of really important information if you're studying the system, but that's a lot different than creating information that makes it possible for people to make good decisions, and I think on that one we have a lot of work to do," Baker told reporters after his testimony.

Baker's caution against limiting the conversation only to health care experts and losing consumers in the process was echoed by Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, the House chair of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, who reiterated "the importance that all of us don’t get lost in the alphabet soup of health-care jargon."

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care CEO Eric Schultz said that while the country is fortunate to have the pharmaceutical industry based here, there are some companies that are taking advantage of the market. 

"There are gougers out there that are behaving very poorly and hiding under the veil of a statement that they're saving lives so that they can increase prices as dramatically as these companies have," Schultz said.

Schultz called for legislation to crack down on predatory pharmaceutical companies, a move by the government he said those companies expect to come sooner or later.

"There are some really bad players out there and we need to hold them accountable," he said. "If we don't, we're going to see these trends continue ... because they believe there's a short window of time left before such legislation comes forward." 

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