The health care cost containment bill signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick will soon bring sweeping changes to Massachusetts hospitals and patients, including more widespread use of electronic medical records and a “cooling off” period before filing medical malpractice lawsuits.
Patrick signed the bill into law on Aug. 6, 2012, six years after Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to require every resident to obtain health insurance. It is seen as the model for the federal health care law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010. The Massachusetts bill aims to save the state $200 billion in health care costs over the next 15 years, keeping spending at or below the same pace as the state’s economy through 2017. The law will:
- Encourage the creation of “accountable care organizations” that coordinate medicine, provide patients access to their medical records and reduce unnecessary testing.
- Seek to contain medical malpractice costs by creating a 182-day “cooling off” period to give both sides a chance to negotiate a malpractice settlement.
- Provide $135 million in grants to help community hospitals adopt electronic medical records.
- Expand the role of physician assistants and nurse practitioners to act as primary care providers.
- Create a new “Wellness Tax Credit” for businesses that adopt programs to prevent chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and asthma.
- Creates 25 new boards, task forces and commissions, which will need 266 appointees.
This is the second step at controlling medical malpractice costs Massachusetts has seen this year. In April, a coalition of Massachusetts doctors, hospitals and patient groups announced a “Road Map to Reform” plan, in which seven hospitals planned to offer patients harmed by medical errors a prompt apology and possible financial settlement before a patient files a medical malpractice lawsuit. Patients were to be encouraged to hire a medical malpractice attorney to review details of the proposed settlement.
The same coalition, which included Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Three large insurers and a medical group donated $1 million to underwrite the initial work.