State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez has played a role in shaping health policy in Massachusetts since before Romneycare. Sanchez, 47, was in the House for the 2006 passage of the state’s landmark health care overhaul. The Democrat cochaired the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health before moving in 2015 to cochair the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. He’s also cochairing a new special commission that is trying to figure out why some hospitals charge more than others for the same services. Sanchez, who lives in Jamaica Plain with his wife and two daughters, doesn’t have to travel far to see Massachusetts’ medical prowess on display: All of the Longwood Medical Area hospitals are in his district. Sanchez spoke with Globe reporter Priyanka Dayal McCluskey.
1. Sanchez is a proud son of Mission Hill. He grew up in a housing project there and still loves to talk about the neighborhood’s history and culture, from the beginnings of the American Revolution to the turbulence that rocked the area in more recent decades. He was actually born in New York City, to parents who immigrated from Puerto Rico, but moved to Boston as a child. The reason for the move is very much related to health care: Sanchez’s sister was ill, and his mother, unhappy with the treatment plan proposed by doctors in New York, came looking for a second opinion.
“She started looking and talking with my aunt, and she said, ‘Why don’t you come over here? They have this children’s hospital over here.’ . . . We ended up here, and we stayed here.”
2. Sanchez took a circuitous route to becoming a health-policy-focused legislator. He worked many jobs over the years in retail, banking, telemarketing, cooking, and cleaning. He thought he was living his dream working in finance when, in 1995, he had the opportunity to join then-Mayor Thomas Menino’s office as a community liaison. He ran for state representative in 2002 and has kept his seat ever since.
Sanchez even worked several jobs as a kid, collecting garbage and selling newspapers. But his most memorable position was at his beloved church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Tremont Street, where he spent much of his childhood. He used to climb up to the tower between masses and gawk at the big bells.
“The church was my sanctuary. I was the caretaker of the church when I was 10 years old. On weekends, I used to open it up, set up for the masses. I used to come here [to Mike’s Donuts, across the street from the church] and get doughnuts for the priests, bring them over to the refectory.”
3. Sanchez isn’t sure what to expect from President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration when it comes to health policy. Trump has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a new health care plan. It’s unclear what that will mean for Massachusetts. With Republicans in charge of Congress and the White House, many in the state are also worried about a possible drop-off in federal funding for health care programs. Massachusetts, for example, relies on billions of dollars annually to fund its Medicaid program.
“This rhetoric, it adds more questions than certainty. The question for us is what does all that rhetoric mean? . . . We have to just be agile. We have to listen and make sure we live up to our own ideals. This is a state that’s built on health.”
4. Sanchez represents one of the state’s most diverse legislative districts, stretching from Jamaica Plain and Roslindale to Mission Hill to Brookline. It is home to some of Massachusetts’ poorest and wealthiest residents, and people of many different cultures. It also provides a view into the best and the worst of health care — some of the best hospitals in the world are located in the district, but so are many people who have trouble accessing medical care because of cost or other barriers.
“We’re fortunate. Do people have to fight to get services still? Absolutely. Do they struggle within the system? Absolutely.”
5. Perhaps Sanchez’s biggest responsibility these days is running the special commission on health care price variation. It was born out of legislation passed in May to scuttle a controversial ballot question that would have taken money from some high-priced hospitals and distributed it to their lower-priced competitors. The commission has 23 members from the public and private sectors, including the chief executives of Partners HealthCare, Lahey Health, and Boston Medical Center. Sanchez cochairs the group with Senator James Welch. The commission and its subcommittees already have met several times. The group has been asked to draft recommendations about how to address price variation — a task it’s supposed to accomplish by mid-March. Sanchez said he doesn’t know whether all the talk will lead to new legislation, but he’s pleased with the dialogue so far.
“I’m happy that people are engaging. I feel like people are being thoughtful. [I hope for] a better understanding of where we stand and what goes into the variation itself, and recommendations and ideas on what can be done in and outside of the legislative system to address the challenges we have.”Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.