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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

First step for state’s new Health Policy chief: scrub the refrigerator

The health care world is closely watching David Seltz, the former legislative aid charged with implementing the Massachusetts cost-control law. Anyone looking last weekend would have seen the 31-year-old at work with a bucket of bleach, scrubbing a small white refrigerator he found in the trash.

Heading the Health Policy Commission is all about frugality, even in small ways.

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Though he is the only employee so far, Seltz fashioned a “break room’’ with an old-fashioned “boom box’’ and other items discarded by former tenants on the well-worn sixth floor of the China Trade Building in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood.

Seltz is awaiting money from a $2.8 million assessment on hospitals and health insurers to hire most of his staff, about 40 people. Short-term state funds have allowed him to hire three key employees, including a general counsel, to start Monday.

Seltz is starting an agency from scratch, which is rare in state government. His commission has vast responsibilities to make sure the state’s first-in-the-nation law to curb medical spending is successful. Most immediately, the commission must write regulations for conducting market impact reviews of hospitals, doctors and other providers who buy or merge with other providers. The commission will assess the impact on employers and consumers, including whether prices are likely to rise or fall, and whether care will improve.

“It’s a whole new review that doesn't exist now,’’ he said in an interview. The commission will not have the power to stop a transaction that it believes will negatively affect the market. But the agency will publicize its reports and make them available to the Department of Public Health, the Attorney General, and the US Department of Justice, which do have this authority.

“We need to provide sunshine where there wasn’t sunshine before,’’ Seltz said.

Any transaction that wasn’t final as of January 1 can be reviewed, including Partners HealthCare’s merger with South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, and the proposed deal between Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Jordan Hospital in Plymouth.

Seltz said the commission hopes to complete the regulations by March, including how large a provider or a transaction must be to trigger a review.

“The urgency is there. These things are in play right now,’’ he said.

Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at kowalczyk@globe.com.

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