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Wolf seeks commission to rein in health care spending

October 2, 2020 GMT

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday proposed a new government commission that would aim to slow the growth in health care spending and improve affordability by establishing an annual cost benchmark and holding large health providers and insurers accountable to it.

Patterned on a similar commission in Massachusetts, the Health Value Commission would set a statewide target for the rate of growth in health spending, and require health care organizations that exceed the target to come up with a plan to bring costs under control. The commission would have the power to monitor compliance and levy fines, officials said.

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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, “we need to do what we can to stem the rising tide of health care costs so that Pennsylvanians are not priced out of good health care,” Wolf, a Democrat, said at a news conference in Harrisburg.

An analysis by The Commonwealth Fund health policy center found that Massachusetts’s Health Policy Commission helped rein in spending and saved employers and consumers $7.2 billion from 2013 to 2018.

Wolf’s proposed commission requires legislative approval, and it was unclear Friday whether the Republican-controlled General Assembly would go along with it.

The commission, whose members would be appointed by the governor and state lawmakers, would also have the power to review proposed hospital and health system mergers and acquisitions to ensure they’re in the public interest.

It was unveiled Friday as part of a health care plan that Wolf said would “make health care more affordable, will hold health care corporations accountable and will tackle health inequities resulting from systemic racism.”

He said it would not establish price controls.

“This is absolutely not a cap. It’s really an attempt to persuade health care systems to be more transparent in terms of the decisions they’re making as to their health care costs,” Wolf said.

The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania said it was reviewing Wolf’s proposal, but that its members are “continuously striving” to lower costs, improve access and community health, and address inequalities in health care.

“Hospitals are among the most regulated and transparent facilities in the commonwealth, and HAP and the hospital community are dedicated to working with the government, the insurance community, and providers so that all Pennsylvanians have the access to care that they need to get and stay healthy,” said Andy Carter, the group’s president and CEO,

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House Republican spokesman Jason Gottesman said “there remain many unanswered questions to very basic questions” about Wolf’s plan.

“If there is any legislation introduced in furtherance of this plan, it will be reviewed as part of the normal legislative process,” Gottesman said.

Wolf also signed an executive order Friday creating an executive branch council aimed at finding efficiencies in the health care system. The Interagency Health Reform Council must submit its recommendations by Dec. 30.

Additionally, the Department of Human Services, which runs Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program and is the largest purchaser of health care in the state, will require its managed care providers to work toward reducing racial inequities and other disparities in health care, Wolf said.