The state Senate is pushing forward with a plan to overhaul the Massachusetts health care industry in order to keep costs down for consumers. A crucial part of the initiative, developed by Senate Democrats, is to cap how high prices can rise at the most expensive hospitals, while allowing lower-priced, smaller facilities to charge more,. The aim is to level the playing field and keep community hospitals in business.

At the core of the argument is the implication that care at smaller community facilities can be just as good as Boston's leading hospitals, so the prices and reimbursements for those services should be more in line. That way, Senate thinking goes, quality care outside of Boston will be rewarded and consumers will not be accidentally stunned by sticker shock with surprising medical bills.

"When it comes to who should be able to claim those dollars being added to the system, the underpaid community hospitals should stand in line first, with the hope of moving their reimbursement levels to an amount where they can offer services and care adequately for their communities," said Dr. Paul Hattis, a public health and community medicine professor at Tufts School of Medicine.

"If some of those hospitals close, it not only creates access challenges in many instances, it but only leaves a footprint of more expensive hospitals in our state to go to, raising overall healthcare spending," Hattis said.

The provision to narrow the variation in medical service pricing has proved unpopular with executives at the state's world-renowned top hospitals, who insist that not all medical facilities were created equal.

"If the quality of care in Massachusetts is the same across all hospitals, then why do the MGH and the Brigham consistently attract the best medical students from across the country and around the world?" Mass. General Hospital president Dr. Peter Slavin asked Senate lawmakers at a State House hearing on the plan Monday.

"If the quality of care in Massachusetts is the same, then why are one-sixth of the patients that we admit to our hospitals transferred from other hospitals within the state, including other teaching hospitals?" Slavin asked.

The Senate plans to debate it's health care plan in the coming weeks. The House may offer its own competing plan to reign in costs later this fall.