Here she comes: Maura Healey, our ever-so-affable attorney general, who campaigned as the “people’s lawyer.” But will her consumer focus come at the expense of business?
Healey, who will be sworn in Wednesday, tells me she is not going to be that kind of AG. She will be tough but always fair. Hey, she is practically one of us, having spent seven years at white-shoe law firm WilmerHale representing business clients such as Analog Devices and Biogen Idec.
“I know the importance of predictability, certainty, clarity, and fairness when it comes to business,” Healey said. “That’s what companies, general counsels, boards, and CEOs are looking for.”
I told you she’s a charmer – or just politically savvy. It is no wonder the 43-year-old lawyer is a rising star in the local Democratic establishment and our nation’s first openly gay state attorney general. Could she, someday, be the AG who runs for governor in our state and breaks the curse?
Now, I’m getting way ahead of myself here. So let’s get back to my original question about whether Healey is bad news for the business community. The simple answer: no.
Here is why: In the messy world of Massachusetts policy, consumers and companies oddly find themselves aligned when it comes to two issues nearest and dearest to business owners: the high cost of health care and energy. Those areas, along with fighting opiate abuse, are also the top priorities for the incoming AG.
On day one, Healey will walk into one of the most contentious health care fights around: whether the all-powerful Partners HealthCare system should be allowed to expand. Her predecessor, Martha Coakley, said yes — with strings attached in a deal waiting for a ruling from Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders.
It seems that everyone else — from rival hospitals to consumer advocates — thinks a bigger Partners is a bad idea, one that would drive up medical costs for all.
Judge Sanders, in a hearing in November, indicated that she would like Healey to weigh in, all but sending her an invitation in the mail when she said: “Surely we should make sure that the incoming attorney general is behind this.”
Healey, at the time, declined to comment. But what about now? Not only is Coakley gone, but so soon will be Gary Gottlieb, the Partners CEO who agreed to the deal. No wonder the judge wants Healey’s take on a settlement that could reshape the health care landscape over the next decade.
“I am evaluating everything right now,” said Healey. “This is a significant issue and an important issue.”
And a thorny one, too. Healey would have to undo her old boss’s deal. After WilmerHale, Healey went off to the attorney’s general office, where she rose through the ranks and worked closely with Coakley. Healey left in the fall of 2013 to run for AG, before the settlement was issued.
Last week Healey, over lunch at the Omni Parker House and later in a phone call, left no hint about what she might have to say about Partners, other than she would use “tools available to work within the office and across government and beyond government to drive down health care costs.”
Rick Lord, the CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, sure hopes she airs an opinion. He likes Healey — she reached out to the business trade group early in her campaign — but he does not like the Partners settlement because he believes it would make health insurance more expensive for employers. The AG is charged with scrutinizing health care costs, and although Coakley did her part, her stance on Partners raised eyebrows.
Healey is “now the attorney general who is heading up the office that has to approve or reject these types of changes in the marketplace,” said Lord. “It would be important for her to weigh in. I look forward to that happening.”
On energy, cost is a perennial complaint in Massachusetts, where electricity prices are twice the national average. The attorney general’s office monitors utilities, including approving rate proposals, and Healey fashions herself as a “21st century rate payer advocate,” watching the bottom line while protecting the environment.
In other words, she supports renewable energies and opposes Kinder Morgan’s proposal for a natural gas pipeline through Massachusetts, though she will take another look at it when the plan is formally submitted to federal authorities. As for Cape Wind, she said it is something she wants to learn more about, after two utilities pulled out of a pact to buy electricity from the controversial offshore wind farm, jeopardizing its future.
“I want to be making sure there is fairness and transparency in proposed projects,” Healey said of energy proposals in general. “We have seen over the years how important that is. We need to know what we are getting into — and what that is going to cost.”
Her top initiative as AG, the subject of front-page headlines earlier this month, is fighting opiate abuse, which she called a “public health crisis.” It is also a top priority for Governor Charlie Baker and one of the first things the two talked about when they met a few weeks ago.
In Healey’s mind, it is a business issue, too, hurting employee productivity and driving up medical costs. She wants to tighten the state’s prescription drug monitoring program and push for a pharmacy lock-in law, which would prevent patients suspected of abusing drugs from filling prescriptions at multiple locations.
Although everyone wants to be part of the solution, getting everyone to agree on what to do will be a challenge. The Massachusetts Pharmacists Association is not convinced a lock-in is an effective way to reduce prescription drug abuse. The Massachusetts Medical Society, which represents doctors, does not support a lock-in law because most people who misuse prescription painkillers use drugs that were prescribed for someone else. There are also issues with restricting patients to one pharmacy, such as supply and convenience.
But on the issue of prescription monitoring, the doctors’ group agrees with Healey’s push for real-time reporting of drug data. “We are interested in working with her,” said Richard Pieters, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society and a radiation oncologist. “We should be all on the same page, but we need to be realistic what we can do and what is appropriate.”
No more waiting in the wings. Now it is time for the people’s lawyer to get down to business.
On the docket
■Health care costs are among the highest in the nation. All eyes are on whether Healey will weigh in on the controversial Partners settlement.
■Electricity prices are twice the national average. Healey calls herself the “21st rate payer advocate” and will push for a diverse fuel mix. R
■Heroin and prescription drug abuse is becoming a public health crisis. Healey wants to tighten regulations that will affect doctors and pharmacists.
Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.