The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission voted unanimously today to lower the state’s objective for the growth of health-care expenditures from 3.6 percent to 3.1 percent beginning in 2018.
The vote marks a significant milestone for employers and consumers struggling with the soaring cost of health insurance. AIM President and Chief Executive Officer Richard C. Lord, who represents employers on the Health Policy Commission, has been a vocal supporter of lowering the benchmark and voted in favor of the 3.1 percent level.
“Today’s vote represents a concrete, measurable step toward moderating the type of premium increases that give employers a knot in their stomachs when they look at their insurance renewals,” Lord said.
“The action will ultimately mean more than all the sound and fury over national health reform in Washington."
The spending growth benchmark, established as part of the health-cost control law of 2012, is a critical component for understanding year-over-year increases in health-care spending. AIM has always favored an aggressive goal – the organization joined with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization in 2012 to support setting the health-care cost growth benchmark at two percentage points below the growth in the state’s economy.
The association ultimately supported the establishment of a 3.6 percent benchmark because it recognized the vital importance of creating a standard to measure cost-containment efforts.
But Massachusetts has not yet seen sufficient progress. The commonwealth has exceeded the 3.6 percent benchmark in two of the past three measurement periods. Total Health Care Expenditures (THCE) grew by 4.2 percent from 2013 to 2014, and by 4.1 percent from 2014 to 2015.
“These unsustainable cost increases are occurring in an industry where experts agree that at least a third of all care is unnecessary – delivered in the wrong setting; marked by a lack of coordination; provided with an inadequate emphasis on prevention; harmed by medical errors; burdened with rules and fraud; or just plain excessive,” Lord said.
AIM is also addressing the health cost issue by supporting new research conducted by the Health Policy Commission suggesting that Massachusetts could reduce total health-care expenditures anywhere from $279 million per year to $794 million per year, or 0.5 to 1.3 percent, by making seven improvements to the health-care system.
- Shift community appropriate care to community hospitals – Reduce by 5-10 percent the number of cases treated at teaching hospitals that would be more appropriately treated at community hospitals. Savings: $43 million to $86 million.
- Reduce hospital readmissions – Cut the 2015 hospital readmission rate from 15.8 percent (78,000 readmissions) to a range of 15 to 13 percent. Savings: $61 million to $245 million.
- Reduce avoidable emergency room visits – More than 900,000 emergency room visits during 2015 were considered avoidable. Shift 5-10 percent of those avoidable visits to lower-cost settings. Savings: $12 million to $24 million.
- Reduce use of institutional post-acute care – Redirect 5-21 percent of the patients who currently leave hospitals to go to institutional rehabilitation facilities into home care. Savings: $46.6 million to $186 million.
- Provide incentives for consumers to choose high-value primary care providers.
- Increase the use of alternative payment methods -The commonwealth wants to increase the percentage of HMO participants covered by alternative payment methods from 58.5 percent in 2015 to 80 percent this year. Savings: $23 million to $68 million.
- Reduce the growth of prescription-drug spending – Cut the growth-rate of spending on prescriptions from 5.0 percent in 2016 to 3.6 percent to 4.3 percent. Savings: $57 million to $113 million.