It’s that time of year again, when advocates gearing up for a shift in state administrations are laying out their policy goals.
The latest report, released Thursday, comes from interviews with a wide range of health care organizations, convened by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, a nonprofit attached to the insurer, and consulting firm Manatt Health. The report, which seeks to set goals for Gov.-elect Maura Healey, highlights some of the biggest issues confronting the health care industry right now.
“With the new administration taking shape on Beacon Hill, our goal is to encourage action on today’s most pressing health care challenges,” said Audrey Shelto, president and CEO of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation.
Since Massachusetts became the first state to pass a universal health insurance law, the state has led on access, but lagged in affordability with some of the nation’s highest health care costs. Lawmakers and outgoing Gov. Charlie Baker have for years been proposing ways to bring costs down but have failed to reach agreement. Unsurprisingly, affordability is one of five issues flagged by the health care leaders.
Among the proposed solutions: increasing the income eligibility level at which someone can get subsidized Health Connector insurance; creating a health insurance program for low-income immigrants who lack legal status; and doing more outreach to get people who are eligible for state-subsidized coverage enrolled. The report also recommends giving the Health Policy Commission more authority to control prices, including by setting provider price caps, a controversial proposal that would limit how much hospitals and clinicians can charge.
Another long-standing issue is a lack of affordable long-term care, like nursing home care, which is often not covered by health insurance. The report says solutions could include creating a state-sponsored individual contribution program to encourage people to save for long-term care, expanding state oversight of rate-setting for long-term care insurance, and encouraging people to buy private long-term care insurance, potentially with the creation of a program providing public assistance once people exhaust those benefits.
One area of health care that has become an increasing crisis during the pandemic is children’s mental health. Anxiety and depression jumped during COVID lockdowns, while disrupting the availability of services for children who needed care. The Baker administration already laid out a road map for improving behavioral health care, and the report has fewer concrete recommendations in this area. Its suggestions are mainly about crafting long-term strategies and partnerships to address the problem.
The pandemic also highlighted long-standing racial inequities in health. The report’s authors seek to create a new cabinet-level Office of Equity in state government, with offices in each secretariat aimed at addressing equity issues, which in health care would include topics related to insurance coverage, access, quality, consumer experience, and outcomes.
Finally, staffing shortages in health care have become a crisis, as all industries struggle to find labor and health care clinicians struggle with burnout after three years of a pandemic. The report says a crucial step will be raising wages for behavioral health clinicians and long-term care workers, and developing a 10-year plan focused on recruiting and retaining workers, stabilizing wages and benefits, and increasing diversity.
NEW STORIES FROM COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE
To void or not to void: Judges on the Supreme Judicial Court raise the possibility of voiding some 27,000 tainted convictions for drunk driving, but prosecutors push back that such a drastic step is unnecessary. The case has some parallels to decisions to void drug convictions in the wake of scandals at state drug labs. Read more.
Driving more: The latest survey of workers in the Massachusetts biotech industry finds they are driving more and using public transit less, primarily in getting to and from work. Read more.
Buried treasure: On a test run of the Green Line extension to Tufts University in Medford (set to open on Monday), program manager John Dalton discloses one of the most unusual finds during all of the excavation work – an old flatbed freight car buried under tons of dirt. Read more.
They want guns: Gov. Charlie Baker recommended pardons for three more people, bringing the total to 18 in the last three months. Interestingly, the latest pardon seekers and many of the previous ones seek to expunge their past criminal convictions so they can apply for a firearms license. Read more.
STORIES FROM ELSEWHERE AROUND THE WEB
First lady Lauren Baker says outgoing Gov. Charlie Baker is likely to stay engaged in public service, but has no plans to seek another elected office. (MassLive)
Chelsea will launch a version next year of a guaranteed income program following initial experience with an initiative that provided needy families with $400 a month with no strings attached. (Boston Globe)
South Essex Registrar of Deeds John O’Brien is waging a campaign against what he calls widespread fraud in the transfer of mortgages, and is now trying to intervene in a particular foreclosure case. (Salem News)
Proposals for permanent housing for formerly homeless people in Dorchester and Charlestown are facing pushbackfrom neighbors. (Boston Globe)
Police are investigating alleged racial harassment of a Muslim Melrose city councilor at a neighborhood gas station. (GBH)
A new state loan repayment program for health care workers is seeing huge demand. (MassLive)
An off-duty FBI agent gets in a fight with another person in a Washington, DC, subway station and ends up shooting the other person. (New York Times)
A Boston University report says the federal government is making it difficult for victims of human trafficking to obtain special visas designed to protect survivors. (GBH)
Gaming regulators delay a vote on sports betting at MGM Springfield, expressing frustration at how intertwined MGM’s application is with the application of their mobile betting partner. (MassLive)
A federal Appeals Court heard arguments in a case challenging Boston’s revamp of its exam school admission policies. (Boston Globe)
Boston Public Schools families continue to express broad concerns about the system, according to a new survey from the MassINC Polling Group. (GBH)
A Pioneer Institute poll shows widespread support for reinstating an MCAS exam in US history. (Salem News)
Can the Strand Theatre in the Dorchester section of Boston serve as an anchor for a revitalization of Uphams Corner? (Dorchester Reporter)
A Gloucester man discovers a trove of photographs of a Japanese warship sunk at Guadalcanal during World War II. (Gloucester Daily Times)
Homeowners on Cape Cod and the South Coast could be required under a new state law to pay thousands of dollars for septic system upgrades unless their community agrees to a 20-year plan to reduce nitrogen pollution. (Standard-Times)
The Justice Department’s inspector general issues a report saying inmates at the prison where James “Whitey” Bulger was killed knew in advance he was coming and many placed bets on how long he would survive there. The report identifies a series of missteps by prison officials, six of whom are being referred for disciplinary action. (NPR)
Gov. Charlie Baker has appointed more than half of the state’s 418 and is the first governor since John Hancock to appoint every member of the Supreme Judicial Court. (Boston Globe)
Unionized New York Times journalists began a 24-hour strike at midnight after reaching an impasse with the paper over terms of a new contract. (CNN)
Bob Haas, who devoted decades to improving the Uphams Corner neighborhood of Dorchester where he lived for more than 50 years, died at age 76. (Dorchester Reporter)