Business & Tech

TALKING POINTS: THE WEEK IN BUSINESS

Nearly 200 applications filed for recreational marijuana businesses in Mass.

Nearly 200 prospective operators have so far signaled interest in opening a recreational marijuana business in Massachusetts, state officials said Tuesday, a strong showing in the run-up to the expected debut of commercial pot sales in July. Following the launch of its online licensing system Monday, the Cannabis Control Commission said 23 companies and entrepreneurs have submitted requests for expedited licensing, while another 167 have started the process. The commission said it would publicly disclose information on individual applicants, including their names and the types of businesses they want to open, later this spring. Under state law, two groups will have their applications for marijuana licenses processed ahead of other applicants: medical marijuana dispensaries that are already open or have a provisional permit; and so-called economic empowerment applicants — companies that are led by, employ, or benefit members of communities that had high rates of arrests for drug crimes. Once qualified by state officials, operators in those groups can submit full applications beginning April 16. However, applicants must secure permission from officials in the community where they want to operate before winning a state license, and so far many Massachusetts municipalities have expressed reluctance to welcome recreational pot businesses. Of the preliminary applications submitted or in progress so far, 77 came from medical marijuana companies. The other 113 came from prospective operators who qualify for the commission’s economic empowerment program. That’s a good sign for the agency’s various efforts to redress the stark racial disparities seen in the past enforcement of marijuana prohibition. — DAN ADAMS

HEALTH CARE

Beth Israel Deaconess, Lahey merger clears a significant hurdle

One of the biggest health care mergers proposed in Massachusetts is closer than ever to becoming a reality. Massachusetts public health officials on Wednesday approved the combination of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Lahey Health, and several other hospitals. The merger would create a sizable new health system, with doctors and hospitals spanning from the New Hampshire border to Cape Cod. The endorsement by the state Public Health Council, a body chaired by Governor Charlie Baker’s public health commissioner, marks a significant step in the proposed 13-hospital deal.At least two hurdles remain. The state Health Policy Commission, which studies such transactions, has not finished reviewing the merger’s impact on health care costs. And Attorney General Maura Healey has yet to weigh in on how the deal would affect Massachusetts consumers. Still, executives are upbeat that a deal discussed many times over the years is finally moving forward. Dr. Kevin Tabb, chief executive of Beth Israel Deaconess, is set to become CEO of the merged company. The merger would join together Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston and its community hospitals, and Lahey Health of Burlington and its community hospitals. Also included in the deal are New England Baptist Hospital in Boston, Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport, and about 4,300 physicians.The new company would compete with the state’s most dominant health care system, Partners HealthCare, which is the parent of Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women’s, and several other hospitals.
— PRIYANKA DAYAL MCCLUSKEY

REAL ESTATE

Rents in Greater Boston are rising

With the spring real estate market blooming, rents in Greater Boston are again accelerating, though it’s not clear if that’s a blip or a longer-term trend. New figures from several real estate data firms show the price of an apartment in the region is on the upswing after staying relatively flat over the last year or so. It’s a sign that strong demand continues in the region’s housing market and raises the question of whether Boston needs to build even more places for people to live if it hopes to make a meaningful dent in what are some of the nation’s priciest rents. In the first three months of the year, the average rent for an apartment in Greater Boston rose to $2,152, up 4 percent from a year prior, according to the real estate firm Reis Inc. That was the quickest pace in nearly two years and far faster than the 1 percent growth rate of this time last year. Other market-watchers, such as ApartmentList and RentalBeast, also showed rent increases picking up speed over the last year. That comes amid a bit of a lull in the region’s wave of housing construction — at least in terms of new apartment buildings opening — even as the ranks of renters continue to swell, thanks to strong job growth and a wave of baby boomers downsizing into apartments. — TIM LOGAN

HEALTH CARE

Baker signs law giving consumers more privacy with medical information

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Governor Charlie Baker has signed legislation to give Massachusetts consumers more privacy over their medical information. The law requires health insurers to send forms containing information about medical treatments to the patient who received the care — not to the policyholder. These forms, commonly known as an “explanation of benefits” or a “summary of payments,” contain lists of medical services provided and the amount of money charged, paid, and owed for each service. The law will allow adult children and spouses, for example, to receive these statements directly, so they can keep confidential information about their medical care. This is especially important for sensitive issues such as treatment of mental illness, domestic violence, and sexually transmitted diseases, advocates of the law said. The legislation was supported by health care providers, insurers, and other health care groups, as well as the Boston-based consumer advocacy group Health Care For All. The Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, a trade group for health insurers, did not initially come out in favor of the measure, which was first proposed several years ago. But insurers now support it. “When we see that there are issues that emerge, and we can try to help correct them, we want to step in and do that, as long as it makes sense,” said Lora Pellegrini, president of the insurers association. “This one just makes common sense.”
— PRIYANKA DAYAL MCCLUSKEY

HOTELS

Taj Boston to get a makeover

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It looks like one of Boston’s most elegant hotels is going to get a thorough sprucing-up. A San Francisco private equity firm is investing in the Taj Boston hotel and plans a “major capital improvement project” to renovate the classic but faded Arlington Street landmark, a spokeswoman for the hotel’s current owners said. Financial terms were not disclosed, but records filed this week in Suffolk County indicate an arm of Iconiq Capital LLC — which manages money for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, among other tech-industry titans — bought a $190 million interest in the hotel, and then took out a $160 million mortgage on it. That money could fuel long-planned upgrades to the Taj, which was formerly Boston’s first Ritz-Carlton. A group of investors that included veteran developer Steve Karp bought the hotel for $125 million in 2016. That group will retain an ownership stake and work with Iconiq on “a comprehensive renovation of the guest rooms, public areas, and food and beverage outlets” at the 273-room hotel. Karp’s New England Development and its partners — which include Woburn-based developer Eastern Real Estate, Boston investment firm Rockpoint Group, and two other firms — have spent the last two years working with architects, engineers, and interior designers to reimagine the hotel, which commands the corner of Arlington and Newbury streets across from the Public Garden. — TIM LOGAN