EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 26, 2012

Column: Legislators seek to contain health care costs by decree

Barbara Anderson
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — “First, do no harm,” states the Hippocratic Oath.

OK, maybe I

shouldn’t have laughed when I heard about the new Massachusetts health care reform law. And yet ... didn’t someone once say that laughter is the best medicine? We’ll need it when our doctors are too busy filling out their budget paperwork to write us a prescription.

Let’s start with the official history of S. 2400, the 349-page bill that basically takes over the commonwealth’s private health care system, presently considered one of the best in the world. From the state’s website:

July 30, 2012: Senate — Reported from the committee of conference.

July 31, 2012: Senate — Rules suspended.

July 31, 2012: Senate — Committee of conference report accepted.

July 31, 2012: House — Rules suspended.

July 31, 2012: House — Committee of conference report accepted, in concurrence.

July 31, 2012: House — Enacted.

July 31, 2012: Senate — Enacted and laid before the governor.

Aug. 6, 2012: Governor — Signed by the governor, Chapter 224 of the Acts of 2012.

There you go. An entire overhaul of our entire health care system in just one day. Normally you have to give legislators time to read the bill they are voting on, but that silly requirement is easily set aside with the words “rules suspended” (see above).

They couldn’t be allowed time to read the bill because July 31 was the last day of the legislative session this year and there were other important bills that they also didn’t have time to read that needed to be passed before midnight. Every senator voted in favor of S. 2400, and all but 20 House members.

RomneyCare had passed after a long, well-publicized process in 2006. At the time its supporters admitted that it had no cost controls, which they would get to later. Years went by, mandates were added, health care costs rose; then when ObamaCare became a presidential campaign issue, som

eone here decided it was time to get started on “Phase 2: Cost Containment” to prove it could be done.

Variations on the bill made their way over a few months to the conference committee, where it was finalized with input from various special-interest sources which were either seeking favors or fighting punishment. The first look the public got at the new final version was when the State House News Service reported, just before its passing, that “health care costs will not be allowed to grow faster than the overall rate of the (state) economy.”

Yes, I laughed. Who knew it was so easy? Just tell a giant, complicated system of hospitals, clinics, insurance companies, doctors’ offices, and children playing with toy stethoscopes that the total cost of everything they do can be no more than the completely unrelated rate of growth of the Massachusetts economy, and the cost problem is solved.

Wait! How will we know that every entity, every doctor is doing his part of keep within the allowed growth? Not to worry: I’m told that there will be 25 new state commissions with 266 government appointees to oversee them and make sure they keep track of ... everything they do. No, if they get busy with patient care they don’t get to suspend the

rules.

And doctors thought Medicare and Medicaid paperwork was burdensome. If I’m reading this right, there could be a $500,000 fine if they don’t cooperate; or their licenses to practice here may be reviewed by the bureaucrats. Hey, don’t we already have a doctor shortage?

Aside from the fact that the state government is now running the health care system, this is why it’s called “socialized medicine”: Along with $165 million “assessed” on our health plans, there will be a $60 million “assessment” on successful hospitals to subsidize financially unstable hospitals. However, only three hospital entities — Partners, Beth Israel Deaconess and Children’s — have to pay the assessment, though the latter two can apply for waivers. Only nonprofit hospitals can get the money, because to anti-capitalist politicians, profit is bad.

As these “assessments” are passed along to patients, they allow us yet another opportunity to pay for government bailouts of unstable entities. Lucky us.

Get this: Again according to the State House News Service, if the bureaucrats determine that “market power was unduly influencing pricing t

o the detriment of consumers”, the provider would be sent to the attorney general who could “pursue possible anti-competitive trust violations.” As if most bureaucrats would recognize “the market” if they found it in their bedpan.

Clearly the

state is after Partners, which is my health-care provider. It has been growing dramatically by merging Mass. General with suburban hospitals, thereby giving patients like me great surgeons and specialists without having to drive into Boston, risking injury from falling fixtures in a Big Dig tunnel.

Yet when Gov. Deval Patrick signed this bill, he was joined in celebration by the Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, which has Partners, Beth Israel, and Children’s Hospital on its Board of Directors.

Let me guess: MTF managed to lobby even bigger assessments out of the final bill, and our kiss-up Boston business community had to show its usual groveling gratitude instead of standing up and fighting back against the entire crazy plan.

I called Partners, w

hich has saved my life on more than one occasion, to see if it is going to challenge this law over its $42 million assessment. I know the U.S. Supreme Court, in reference to ObamaCare, said the government can tax anyone anytime, but picking just one successful hospital system to pay for most of this latest Massachusetts boondoggle can’t be legal, can it? The spokesperson for

Partners told me it is “still reviewing the law.”

The six-month period before full implementation gives everyone, including our doctors, time to review

it. Perhaps the general practitioners can discuss it with legislators during an intimate moment of their annual physical.

If no one can stop this first-in-America experim

ent in socialized medicine, we Massachusetts consumers of health care had better plan not to get sick more or faster than the Massachusetts economy grows.

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Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a regular contributor to the opinion pages.