State health care pricing reform panel fails to take shape


A special commission controlled by Gov. Deval Patrick and charged with examining and recommending health care pricing reforms still hasn’t held its first meeting, more than five months after the panel was established under state law and three weeks before its original recommendation deadline.

A spokeswoman for Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez, who was designated to lead the commission under a health care cost containment law approved last August, said the commission “is happening” but could not provide a list of commission members.

The spokeswoman, Alex Zaroulis, also declined to say whether the panel planned to meet its original Feb. 1, 2011 reporting deadline, adding, “There’s still some appointments to be made.”

“We’re expecting to meet, probably within the next month or so, sometime in February,” Zaroulis said.

A spokesman for Senate President Therese Murray, a chief advocate of last year’s health care cost containment law, told the News Service Tuesday that the commission’s reporting deadline had been postponed until April 1 in a midyear spending bill approved last year.

Murray has not made her appointment to the panel and a spokesman said it would be made soon.

Soaring health care costs for years have been consuming a growing share of household, business, and government budgets and top state officials list cost control as a top priority.

One criticism of the current landscape revolves around providers charging widely varying amounts for the same services.

Lawmakers and Gov. Patrick charged the commission last August with examining “policies aimed at enhancing competition, fairness, and cost-effectiveness in the health care market though the reduction of reimbursement disparities.”

The law specifies some commission members, including state Health Care Finance and Policy Commissioner David Morales; Group Insurance Commission Executive Director Delores Mitchell; a Senate President appointee, and a House Speaker appointee, and Patrick appointees representing the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Hospital Association, Massachusetts Medical Society, and a “health economist.”

A spokesman for the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans recently said the organization had received no communications about the commission.

Rick Gulla, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Medical Society, which represents doctors and is entitled to a seat on the commission, also said Tuesday the group has no knowledge about the commission’s status.

“It appears we have not been contacted,” Gulla said Tuesday afternoon.

Massachusetts Hospital Association spokeswoman Catherine Bromberg said the group had not received confirmation of its recommended commission appointee.

Blue Cross Blue Shield offered a statement in response to a News Service inquiry: “We look forward to hearing from the administration before the end of the month about appointment of a BCBSMA representative to the provider price reform panel. This panel has the opportunity to develop a lasting, community-based solution to the problem of health care costs rising at an unsustainable level for employers and consumers in Massachusetts.”

In his inaugural address Jan. 6, Gov. Patrick said he was working on health care payment reform legislation for release in the “coming weeks.”

Zaroulis, the administration and finance spokeswoman, could not say which commission members had not yet been appointed.

In a statement late Tuesday, Zaroulis said, “The Special Commission on Provider Price Reform is scheduled to meet in February /March. We are working with the Governor’s office to vet formal appointments to the Commission and have posted a Request For Response for a consultant to support the Commission to provide research and analytical support to investigate the rising cost of health care insurance and the impact of reimbursement rates paid by health insurers to providers.”