At a second hearing last Friday, two more came. Mum’s the word from media-savvy hospital officials? Shocking! What made Massachusetts regulators think they would spill their guts about their role in keeping premiums so high? The state’s undersecretary of consumer affairs and business administration whined that the state was disappointed by the no-shows, and said they would encourage hospitals to provide written testimony. She conceded her agency couldn’t make the hospitals cooperate, because it lacked regulatory authority.
Some of the hospitals Lazar contacted gave excuses, ranging from scheduling conflicts to the appointment of a new CEO. Some hospitals did agree to send written testimony, an easier way to spin things positively than subjecting your executives to hard questions on the spot.
On Monday, the state held another hearing. This time the biggie, Partners HealthCare, came to give its opinion on the state’s skyrocketing health care costs, and it fell to Lazar’s colleague, Liz Kowalczyk, to report what Partners had to say. It didn’t say much except that it was not to blame. Partners vice president David McGuire told regulators that rising insurance costs were a national phenomenon, not solely a state problem caused by higher rates paid to Partners hospitals. He fingered inadequate rates paid by Medicare and Medicaid, explaining that “we have no other way to make up these low payments than to charge more to private insurers.” These days, most hospitals blame Medicare and Medicaid for their troubles.
To its credit, the Globe editorialized on the subject, arguing that “hospitals must play a role in controlling costs, and they cannot duck that responsibility,” and it let its reporters show how hospitals and insurers were ducking the regulators’ questions. Lazar noted that the hearing with insurance execs was held in a drab conference room at the insurance agency’s headquarters, and was sparsely attended. That detail is important. It made clear that we need the press to tell us why such hearings are relevant to the public—and, in this case, how they are relevant to the success or failure of national health reform.