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State Senate OK’s version of health care bill

The Massachusetts Senate passed its version of a health care cost reduction bill Thursday night, aimed at trimming projected health care costs in the state by $150 billion over the next 15 years.

The Senate voted 35 to 2 for the measure after two days of debate on 265 amendments. It now goes to the House, which has proposed its own version of cost control.

“Massachusetts spends 15 percent more per person on health care than the rest of the nation and 40 percent of our state budget is spent on health care,’’ Senate President Therese Murray said in a statement after the vote. “This bill will reel in health care costs, without harming our number one industry or patient care, and remove a major roadblock to long-term job growth and essential investments in education and transportation.’’


The Senate bill would limit future growth in health care costs to no higher than the annual growth of the overall state economy and create a new state agency to monitor spending.

The legislation would require health care providers to disclose costs of services upon a patient’s request and would encourage local health care providers to promote prevention of common illnesses. It would develop a process to track variations in the prices for services, and a commission would determine if the cost differences are valid.

The measure also aims to reduce unnecessary medical malpractice litigation and its associated costs, establishing a 180-day waiting period before negotiations between the parties begin.

Among the amendments senators passed were the creation of a fund to improve and expand the ability of certain community hospitals to better serve those in need. Other changes to the legislation call for establishing both a residency grant program to finance training of primary care providers at community health centers, and a commission to study the value of graduate medical education in the state and recommend a sustainable model for funding it.


During the debate, Senator Harriette Chandler, Democrat of Worcester, praised the bill, which builds on the 2006 landmark universal health care law signed by Mitt Romney, then governor. Chandler said the country is watching to see what will happen in Massachusetts, as far as health care is concerned.

“It’s a brilliant bill because it’s an infrastructure bill. It’s a health care payment infrastructure bill, which provides us with a long-run, long-term approach to dealing with health care,’’ she said.

Republican opponents raised concerns over the costs of certain provisions, as well as over the role of the new state agencies that the bill would create. They proposed their own version of health care cost containment legislation in an amendment that failed to pass the chamber.

Senate Republican leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester spoke against the proposed new agencies and said some funding under the legislation would adversely affect businesses.

Earlier this week, Governor Deval Patrick praised lawmakers for taking up such legislation, but expressed reservations on aspects of cost containment legislation, such as the new monitoring agency. He had unveiled his own health care cost containment bill in February 2011.