BOSTON — The average total cost of family health insurance premiums in Massachusetts has roughly tripled from 2000 to 2019, reaching $21,424 and exceeding the national cost of a new compact car.
The statistic was among several pieces of data illustrating rising health care costs and burdens on consumers presented Wednesday at a meeting of the Health Policy Commission, where council members expressed their interest in adding more teeth to the state’s existing liability measures for cost growth.
The Health Policy Commission was created under a 2012 law aimed at curbing rising health care costs. The same law established a benchmark against which the annual growth of medical expenditure is measured.
“My feeling is that what’s happened over the last two years is that the vendor community in particular is saying, ‘Oh, we’re just being watched, so it’s not that bad,'” a said commissioner David Cutler. “And it became a game, like how do you beat the HPC – stay in what you need to stay, but you would have beaten the HPC and the state, and that, to me, seems to violate the rules of the game and violate the rules that the state has implicitly agreed with the private sector.”
David Auerbach, HPC research director, told the committee that health spending growth had accelerated over the past two years and exceeded the benchmark of 3.1% in 2018 (3.6%) and 2019 (4.3%).
Annual expenditure growth averaged 3.59% between 2012 and 2019, and the increase was below the benchmark of 3.6% in 2013, 2016 and 2017.
The state faces no formal consequences for exceeding the benchmark, other than increased attention to rising costs. Suppliers and payers deemed to exhibit excessive cost growth may be subject to additional HPC monitoring, including a possible requirement that they execute a performance improvement plan.
“I think the whole system has done a good job in the first few years since 224 was passed in 2012,” HPC Chairman Stuart Altman said, referring to the cost containment law. . “The game now becomes more difficult and what we recommend is that the process must also become more difficult.”
As the HPC prepares its annual report on health care cost trends, the commission on Wednesday considered a list of 10 proposed policy recommendations aimed at tackling the factors driving spending growth.
HPC executive director David Seltz said recommendations include strengthening “mechanisms to hold health care entities accountable for spending growth”, setting measurable targets on health care affordability and “reviewing supplier caps on very high prices, as well as limiting price growth over time.”
Much of the HPC discussion revolved around the idea of increased accountability.
“I think the overall finding that the current regime is failing to control costs in the Commonwealth is a finding we should be very explicit about,” said commissioner Don Berwick.
Referring to Cutler’s remarks, Berwick said: “There are no consequences yet for this failure, and unless the legislature chooses to create consequences, I do not predict that the future will be much better, very different from the past.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said she “may not be as cynical as some of my colleagues” and described the 2012 law as “very good legislation when it comes to is produced”.
“We’re in a different place and time, and it’s time for us to reflect on that,” she said.
Sudders said a health care bill Governor Charlie Baker introduced in October 2019 aimed to strengthen accountability for entities that exceed the benchmark.
Lora Pellegrini, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, praised the HPC’s set of 10 recommendations after the meeting, describing them as “robust.”
“Persistent price increases charged by doctors, hospitals and other providers, coupled with unjustified prices for specialty, brand name and generic drugs, will continue to threaten the government’s cost growth benchmark and create affordability issues for employers and consumers,” she said in a statement. “Many of the recommendations proposed by the HPC strengthen the state’s health care accountability framework, hold all entities accountable for rising health care costs, and target persistent cost drivers with new designed interventions. to bend the cost curve.”