Gov. Patrick Speaks on State of Massachusetts Health Care at MMS Forum

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick addressed the state’s largest doctor’s advocacy group on Thursday about the status of the health care and payment reform movements and the challenges that still remain.

Currently, the governor said, 98.2 percent of Massachusetts adults and 99.8 percent of children have insurance coverage. Universal health care has most benefited minority, women, and low-income residents.

Mortality rates for testicular cancer in Hispanic men and cervical cancers in low-income women have seen double-digit decreases because of improved screening services and access to care now available under state law.  An estimated 150,000 Massachusetts residents have stopped smoking due to expanded access to smoking-cessation programs, the governor said.

“We started with the belief that health is a public good…and that this is an expression of the kind of Commonwealth we want to live in,” said Gov. Patrick, the lead speaker at the State of the State’s Health Care forum hosted by the Massachusetts Medical Society.

The leadership forum, now in its 13th year, also featured introductions by Mass. Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby, MD, and remarks by Harvard School of Public Health  Associate Dean  Robert J. Blendon,  ScD, Dean Clinic President and CEO Craig Samitt, MD, MBA, and Robert J. Shapiro, PhD, an economist and  former U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs.

A separate and ongoing challenge in the state’s health care reform process is insuring that premiums and heath care spending remain under control.  Otherwise, they remain a significant obstacle to economic recovery.  Small business owners need to be certain they can afford to take on new employees.

“Eighty-five percent of businesses in the Commonwealth are small businesses. If they don’t start hiring, we don’t get a recovery,” Gov. Patrick said.

The payment reform legislation signed into law this summer  – which ties health care costs to state economic growth and includes medical malpractice reforms – is the next step towards a system that offers incentives for good care, not “more care,” the governor said.

After his remarks, the governor took questions from the physicians in the audience.  He addressed the state’s growing physician shortage and difficulty in the recruitment and retention of primary care physicians.    A promising debt-forgiveness program  for medical school graduates  that added dozens of new PCPs to the state had to be scuttled during budget cutbacks in recent years, he said.

The governor also urged physicians to become involved in new advisory commissions to help guide payment reform, and advised hospital administrators to continue their work in eliminating systemic cost inefficiencies.

— Erica Noonan

Video: Governor Patrick’s Remarks

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