Editor’s note: After The Codcast went live and this report on it was published, Sudders notified employees that she would be stepping down January 3.
After eight years as secretary of health and human services under Gov. Charlie Baker, could Marylou Sudders be staying on with Gov.-elect Maura Healey?
There has been no announcement, but during the recording of The Codcast last week Sudders sounded like someone who wasn’t necessarily ready to call it quits.
She chatted with Paul Hattis of the Lown Institute and John McDonough of the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who initially described the conversation with Sudders as an exit interview.
But at the end of the conversation McDonough took a different tack, asking what’s next for her and whether there was any possibility she could be staying on after January 3, either temporarily or permanently. Other news outlets havereported that Healey may be interested in retaining members of the Baker administration in her cabinet.
“I’m here until I’m not,” Sudders said, acknowledging there have been meetings and discussions with Healey and Lt. Gov.-elect Kim Driscoll. “What I can assure you is this transition will be very smooth.”
One reason Sudders may be interested in staying on is to address the cost of health care. As one of the founding members of the Health Policy Commission (initially appointed as a behavioral health expert by former attorney general Martha Coakley and later as Baker’s secretary of health and human services), she has struggled with the cost issue time and time again and now thinks it is time to act.
“It is time for the administration, the Legislature, consumer advocates, and the like to really come back to the table on major health care reform. And it has everything to do with the balance of free market and regulation — price controls, price caps on certain procedures and certain providers,” she said.
“It is time for us to sit at the table for everything from drug pricing to the role of the Health Policy Commission to the structure of the Health Policy Commission, the tools that the commission has, the role of the executive branch,” she said.
Sudders also said existing laws dealing with hospital expansions and elimination of what are considered essential services need to be reviewed. She noted the essential services law, passed in the early 1990s, requires the state to merely hold a hearing when a hospital seeks to shut down a service deemed essential.
“There’s no teeth other than having an essential services hearing,” she said. “Once a hearing is held and a plan is filed, the service can close.”
She said mental health legislation and other reforms passed this legislative session, but Beacon Hill hasn’t addressed the core issues of health care cost, access, quality, and equity.
“We should use this moment and galvanize it and see it,” she said. “To me that is the policy opportunity to come back to the table and address health care costs in the Commonwealth, and I have some strong opinions about it, as you can tell.”
In response to a question, Sudders said the state’s Medicaid program has had some success in reining in the cost of pharmaceuticals, but she said the headwinds against change are strong. In 2008, she said, the median cost of bringing a drug to market was $2,000 per utilizer for 24 drugs. By 2021, the cost had risen to $180,000 per utilizer for 50 new drugs.
“The headwinds are significant and we can provide drugs, as we’ve demonstrated in the Medicaid program, for consumers at much more reasonable cost. In Massachusetts, if nothing else, as part of a comprehensive cost strategy, we need to really take on drug pricing as well as managing the pharmacy benefit managers, the PBMs,” she said.
NEW STORIES FROM COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE
Marijuana labels inaccurate: Massachusetts legalized marijuana in part to provide consumers with a safe, tested product. But a CommonWealth investigation finds potency levels listed on websites and product labels are regularly inflated and contaminants are not always uncovered in the testing process.
– The problem can be traced to standards that are lax and not uniform. Labs are performing tests using different technologies and methods, and growers are gravitating to labs that report the highest THC levels or pass the most samples for contaminants, even if their testing methods are not the most scientifically accurate.
– The Cannabis Control Commission has shown little interest so far in standardizing the testing process. Officials at the commission declined to make a members of the commission or staffers available to discuss the situation. Read more.
Avangrid out: Avangrid pulls out of the current Massachusetts offshore wind procurement, saying the price it negotiated for its 1,200-megawatt Commonwealth Wind project earlier this year is now inadequate given turmoil in financial markets. The company says it will bid on the next procurement next year. Read more.
New education secretary: Gov.-elect Maura Healey selected Barr Foundation senior program officer and former Lynn schools superintendent Patrick Tutwiler as her education secretary. Read more.
Baker-aligned PAC settles charge: A super PAC with ties to Gov. Charlie Baker is accused of breaking state campaign finance law by holding a fundraiser in July where the governor was the guest of honor. The Massachusetts Majority PAC settled the charge by agreeing to “purge” $17,500 raised at the event. Read more.\
Employment recovers: Despite labor shortages seemingly everywhere, Massachusetts employment is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. Read more.
Toxic state GOP: Ed Dombroski, who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in November, says he faced two opponents – his Democratic rival and the Massachusetts Republican Party. He says the extreme right state GOP was in many ways the more formidable opponent. Read more.
STORIES FROM ELSEWHERE AROUND THE WEB
Lawmakers have been taking fewer and fewer recorded roll call votes in recent years, according to a review of legislative records. (Salem News)
Rising costs and worker shortages drive financial losses at Massachusetts hospitals. (WBUR)
Experts say Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision to shut down the state’s economy in March 2020 was the right move. (WBUR)
One year after the lengthy St. Vincent Hospital nurses’ strike, tensions remain between the nurses’ union and hospital management. (Telegram & Gazette)
President Biden plans to appoint former Rep. Joe Kennedy III as a special envoy to Northern Ireland. (CBS)
The House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, could vote Tuesday whether to publicly release former president Donald Trump’s tax returns to the public. (MassLive) This week is also when the January 6 committee will hold its final meeting and decide whether to make criminal referrals, including of Trump. (New York Times)
Massachusetts’ ban on flavored cigarettes is fueling cross-border illegal tobacco smuggling. (Salem News)
The Globe took a deep dive into the death of Robison Lalin, killed earlier this year by a malfunctioning Red Line train that should have been taken out of service decades earlier. (Boston Globe)
The RMV unveils a new curriculum to address driving while under the influence of cannabis, making Massachusetts the first state to include a cannabis-related education module in its driver’s ed curriculum. (Telegram & Gazette)
In its redo of bidding for a huge bus maintenance facility in Quincy after initial bids came in way over budget, the MBTA turned to a procurement process it has not used in more than a decade called “construction manager at risk.” (Boston Herald) CommonWealth took a close look at that bidding process in this 2015 story, which concluded that it doesn’t always deliver.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is seeking a $108 million federal grant to improve the rail corridor between Worcester and Springfield. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Almost 200 countries reached agreement at the UN biodiversity summit in Montreal on steps to take to try to head off the mass extinction of about 1 million species that scientists say the planet is heading toward due to climate change. (Washington Post)
Climate change is affecting the chances that New England will have a “white Christmas.” (USA Today Network)
Lawmakers and police chiefs vowed to step up oversight after a Globe story reported that hundreds of gun dealers in the state had not had any state inspection in years. (Boston Globe)
The first man graduates from a unique diversion court in Springfield, where offenders ages 18 to 24 have an opportunity to complete programming and have their criminal charges expunged. (MassLive)
Former Boston mob boss Frank Salemme died in prison at age 89. (Boston Globe)