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Interest groups weigh in on House and Senate health cost bills

Now that both the House and Senate have released their plans for reining in health care costs -- the former with stronger regulatory controls and the latter encouraging hospitals and doctors to continue efforts to cut costs themselves -- consumer advocates and interest groups are taking sides, staking out their own ground or mulling over their options.

Here's a look at some of the official statements that have rolled in:

The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization had been arguing for a stronger bill than either chamber proposed, with a goal of curbing growth in health care spending to two percentage points less than the gross state product, a measure of economic activity. On Wednesday, though, the group's president, Reverend Burns Stanfield, said it supports the House's spending target of a half percent less than gross state product.

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"We estimate that the House target saves employees and employers an additional $11 to 12 billion over 10 years, compared to the Senate version," he said. "We will be urging the Legislature to adopt the House's version of a TME, [or total medical expenses,] spending target."

Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director of consumer group Health Care for All, didn't address the spending targets but praised both bills' inclusion of more comprehensive behavioral health care and a measure that would encourage providers to apologize in the event of a medical error.

Lynn Nicholas, president of the Massachusetts Hospital Association, said her group is looking at both plans.

"Hospitals support both innovative and common sense approaches to reforming the health care payment and delivery systems," she said. "Our members' goals include promoting transparency and reducing cost increases while giving the market adequate time to build on the advances it's already made."

A statement from Massachusetts Medical Society President Dr. Lynda Young did not explicitly favor one plan or the other, though it seemed to lean toward the Senate's approach.

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"We assert that the market is working, and has already been doing an effective job controlling the growth in the cost of health care over the last two years," Young said. "The most responsible approach to continuing this trend would be to empower this market-led approach."

Lora Pellegrini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, said her group will work with both houses, but cautioned that the plan ultimately must include efforts to rebalance market power.

"As the Attorney General's landmark reports have highlighted, the wide variations in prices are not related to the complexity or quality of care or the severity of illness. Instead, the market clout of certain providers, due to either brand name or geographic location, and the prices they charge, is one of the main drivers of continued premium increases."

Maddie Ribble, policy director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, lauded both bills, highlighting their proposal for a state Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund to address chronic conditions.

"This upfront investment in prevention can save hundreds of millions of dollars within just a few years," he said in a statement released Wednesday. "By keeping people healthy, proven prevention strategies will provide relief from rising health care costs that we can all share in – state and local government, businesses, and our families."


Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.