Mass. Senate Proposes Massive Healthcare Reform Bill

Senate leaders unveiled a 159-section, 101-page healthcare reform bill on Tuesday that addresses behavioral health, provider price variation, readmissions, the scope of practice for various health professions, and telemedicine – among a host of other reforms.

On Monday, Oct. 23, a newly appointed Special Senate Committee on Health Care Cost Containment & Reform will hold a public hearing on the legislation. It is expected that the legislation will be reported to the Senate Ways & Means Committee after Monday’s public hearing, and the Senate is expected to vote on a final bill before November 15.

Hospital leaders from across the state participated in an MHA-convened conference call on Thursday to hear MHA’s initial overview and explanation of the proposed legislation’s elements.

MHA President & CEO Lynn Nicholas, FACHE, said of the legislation, “MHA commends Senate President Rosenberg and the rest of our state senators for keeping their focus on reducing the cost of healthcare in the commonwealth and for advancing steps meant to enhance patient access to healthcare services. We look forward to engaging with Senate leaders to ensure that such provisions are enacted in a manner that achieves true progress in these vital areas.” Nicholas added that the complexity of several parts of the bill merited “further vetting in order to prevent unintended consequences that could run counter to the goals set out by the Senate.”

At first glance, the bill’s recognition of the importance of expanding access to telemedicine takes important steps to address a long-standing MHA goal. Another important beneficial provision if enacted is the establishment of an aligned measure set for the state and health insurers to use in contracting with healthcare providers.  Requiring all carriers to use the aligned quality measure set will make it much easier for consumers to make meaningful quality comparisons and for providers to focus on quality improvements among a narrower set of options. Standardized quality measures from insurers will also create a more level playing field when placing providers into tiers since all carriers will be using the same set of measures.

Notable for their absence from the bill are a series of MassHealth reforms that Governor Baker proposed earlier this year. Specifically the governor’s plan to move 140,000 people from MassHealth to commercial insurance did not make the cut in the Senate’s bill; instead the Senate calls for further analysis of the governor’s Medicaid waiver proposal.