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Mass. health-spending target won’t change in 2021

The state’s benchmark for growth in medical spending will stay at 3.1 percent even as the pandemic depresses non-emergency care

Ambulances pulled up to Massachusetts General Hospital in April.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

The state Health Policy Commission decided Wednesday to keep its benchmark for increases in health care spending in Massachusetts at 3.1 percent in 2021, even as board members reviewed projections for outlays to fall sharply this year because of a decline in non-COVID-related services.

The benchmark is not a firm target but a gauge to measure the state’s success in containing annual increases in health spending over the longer term. The board currently doesn’t have authority to lower the rate, which is based on the state’s expected economic growth, but it could have raised it to as high as 3.6 percent.

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The agency, whose main job is to track health care costs, can require organizations that exceed the spending benchmark to submit detailed improvement plans. Hospitals and insurers use the spending target as a guide for negotiating contracts.

During a virtual public meeting, the commission’s board reviewed forecasts that national health care spending would drop this year by about 10 percent,the midpoint of estimates by two consulting firms that factored in the costs of COVID-19 care. Hardest hit by the decline in spending on medical care in Massachusetts will be community hospitals, physician groups, and local health centers, according the agency.

Stuart Altman, board chairman, said the spending drop may be temporary.

“It’s quite possible that things will bounce back faster and more expensively than we expect,” Altman, who is also a professor of national health policy at Brandeis University, told fellow board members.

John Christian Kryder, a venture capital executive and former primary care doctor, was the lone member of the 11-person board to vote against leaving the benchmark unchanged. He didn’t explain his opposition, but during the meeting asked whether the rate could be lowered down the road if spending remained depressed.

“Can we revisit 2021, perhaps at the October meeting?” said Kryder, who didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

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Separately, the commission announced an investment of more than $2.5 million in four new community partnerships through the Moving Massachusetts Upstream program.

The recipients are Cooley Dickinson Health Care, Heywood Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Mercy Medical Center.



Larry Edelman can be reached at larry.edelman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeNewsEd.