BOSTON—Gov. Charlie Baker’s new health care bill would require providers and insurers to increase primary care and behavioral health spending by 30% over three years, but a Milford legislator worries this will reduce funding for community hospitals such as Milford Regional Medical Center.
State Rep. Brian Murray, D-Milford, said the bill’s required $1.4 billion investment in primary care and behavioral health will mean cuts to other areas because overall funding is not being increased.
“You’d be robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said. “Particularly coming off of COVID, community hospitals are very, very vulnerable.”
Murray, who serves on the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, said he supports the bill’s increased funding in the accessibility of telehealth care, which has shown to be a helpful tool for follow-up and behavioral health visits.
The bill would also impose penalties on drug companies that implement excessive price increases and set a default payment rate for carriers to pay for some out-of-network services, which would remove patients from payment disputes and lessen costs.
The bill was referred to the health care financing panel and is awaiting potential hearings. Baker proposed similar legislation in 2019, but it stalled in the Legislature once the pandemic began early the following year.
Anthony Dell’Aera, assistant professor of political science at Worcester State University, said that while the state has the authority to regulate its health care system, one state’s policy will have limited impact.
Self-insured plans fall under federal authority, due to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. This means states cannot regulate these plans.
There is an array of health care systems in the United States, but the bill may serve as a model for other states if this experiment is successful in Massachusetts, Dell’Aera said.
“When we reflect on the system that enables states to be these laboratories, we have to consider whether we want health policy to come in 50 different varieties, in addition to a federal variety,” Dell’Aera said.
Suzanne Curry, behavioral health policy director at Health Care For All, who advocates for affordable care in Massachusetts, said many callers to the organization’s hotline have struggled to find primary care physicians and behavioral health providers. Curry said she hopes the bill’s extra funding will help fill gaps in these areas.
“If they don’t get the care that they need when they need it, folks end up in the emergency department, which is already overflowing with people trying to get treatment and waiting for treatment for days and weeks — and sometimes months,” she said.