Ways and Means Hears From Admin Officials on Health Programs

The House and Senate Ways and Means Committees held their budget hearing on health programs this morning, and heard testimony from Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, and the state Medicaid Director, Terry Dougherty.

In her testimony Secretary Bigby emphasized that the EOHHS will maintain its commitment to providing services and support to the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable, despite budget cuts. Secretary Bigby noted that the Governor’s plan will maintain a commitment to advancing health reform, finding savings through re-procurement of MassHealth contracts and reducing administrative expenses. A main strategy for reducing administrative costs, Secretary Bigby noted, is moving towards consolidating EOHHS agencies into shared locations. For example, agencies in Barnstable will be co-located to save administrative costs and EOHHS is looking to further consolidate child service agencies.

Representative Swan spoke out on his concerns as to how such consolidation would impact the delivery of services and the cultural sensitivity of service delivery, particularly in the urban communities he represents. Secretary Bigby agreed that different communities within the state definitely have unique needs that should be considered. She specifically highlighted ensuring rural communities’ access to services and making sure that interagency expertise, such as that in the children’s behavioral health program, should not be disrupted.

Governor Patrick’s recent payment reform proposal was also at the top of everyone’s talking points. Representative DeMaceo, who had many questions for Secretary Bigby, highlighted that his local community hospital believes payment reform is necessary and that he’s looking forward to working with the administration to find cost containment solutions. He specifically highlighted the need for quality and cost transparency so that consumers can be informed when making health care decisions. Bigby took such opportunity to invite the committee and hearing attendees to check out the website mass.gov/myhealthcareoptions.org, where they can compare cost and quality of specific health services across Massachusetts.

In his testimony Director Dougherty detailed MassHealth’s new procurement initiative, aimed at not only reducing costs but also better integrating care. MassHealth MCOs will soon have to develop strategies for integrating services, such as behavioral and medical services, and better coordinating patient care. Director Dougherty also shared with the committee MassHealth’s new policy of not reimbursing providers with above average preventable readmission rates, for preventable hospital readmissions within 30 days of discharge. He noted that these new regulations are all part of the administration’s larger effort to move towards a health care system that emphasizes quality and coordination of care over quantity of services.

Senator Flanagan voiced her concern over the proposed cut of 10-day bed holds, noting that when most people leave to go to the hospital, they also don’t pack a bag prepared to move out of their home. She directly asked where people are supposed to go after being discharged?

Multiple committee members, including Rep. Sciortino and Rep. Balser, also commented on the detrimental impact of continuing to cut many dental services for adults in MassHealth, and proposed cuts in adult day health and adult foster care services would have on already vulnerable individuals.
-Lydia Mitts

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