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Health Aff (Millwood). 2012 Oct;31(10):2334-42. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2012.0338. Epub 2012 Sep 19.

The new era of payment reform, spending targets, and cost containment in Massachusetts: early lessons for the nation.

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  • 1Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA. mechanic@brandeis.edu


As its 2012 session drew to a close, the Massachusetts legislature passed a much-anticipated cost control bill. The bill sets annual state spending targets, encourages the formation of accountable care organizations, and establishes an independent commission to oversee health care system performance. It is Massachusetts's third law to address health spending since the state's landmark health insurance coverage reforms in 2006. The 2012 legislation is a notable step beyond other recent cost control efforts. Although it lacks strong mechanisms to enforce the new spending goals, it creates a framework for increased regulation if spending trends fail to moderate. Massachusetts's experience provides several lessons for state and federal policy makers. First, implementing near-universal coverage, as is planned under the Affordable Care Act for 2014, will increase pressure on government to begin controlling overall health care spending. Second, introduction of cost control measures takes time: Massachusetts enacted a series of incremental but increasingly strong laws over the past six years that have gradually increased its ability to influence health spending. Finally, the effectiveness of new cost control laws will depend on changes in providers' and insurers' behavior; in Massachusetts, private market activity has had a complementary impact on the pace of health system change.

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