State Rep. Steve Walsh, who researched and helped craft the bill that reshaped the health care process in Massachusetts, told guests at the Chelsea Chamber of Commerce Government breakfast that the bill will save families $2,000 a year in premiums and that people will have better access to their medical records in the future.
Walsh is in his tenth year as a state representative and is currently House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.
In his remarks, State Rep. Gene O’Flaherty praised Walsh for working hard to produce a bill “that was a great response to the health care issues facing us in Massachusetts.”
Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash also lauded Walsh, saying that he is “an emerging leader” in the House of Representatives.
Walsh, an attorney who holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, said that the state spent $66 billion in health care last year, $14.5 billion in the state budget, “which is about 45 per cent of the state budget.”
“It is squeezing out every other area that you care about,” said Walsh. “In the last ten years we have cut every single area of state government except health care. Something had to be done.”
It was Walsh who was called upon by Speaker of the House Robert A. DeLeo on Beacon Hill to get it done. Walsh said in the course of research for the health care bill he visited 55 of the 64 hospitals in the state to see the health care issues they face on a regular basis.
Walsh said his committee first evaluated health information technology in the state.
“We have no system in place to be able to do medical records,” said Walsh. “We’ll still on paper. It’s remarkable. We’re 15 years behind every other industry in terms of information technology.”
Walsh said that people will have better access to their medical records.
“This bill for the first time will require every provider to have interoperable electronic medical records so you and your doctor will be able to access your record at any time,” said Walsh. “If you do enter an emergency room, that information will be sent back to your primary care doctor so they will know what happened – so you get better coordinated care.”
Walsh said a second key aspect of the bill will translate in to better “disclosure and transparency.”
“When you go to the doctors today, you don’t know what it costs, what the risks are, and what the quality is,” said Walsh. “Why is that? We know more from the Zagat Survey about the quality of a restaurant than you do about your health care. You deserve to know whether the doctor is of high quality and what the costs are.”
Walsh said for the first time people will “have a right to know the quality, the risks, and the costs associated with anything that is done to you or for you.”
The third area that his committee looked at was medical malpractice.
“We are not a litigious society by nature,” said Walsh. “We generally become litigious when we can’t get information. Doctors are taught from the first class in medical school, “Don’t tell the patient anything; if something happens you go to a lawyer.
“Michigan decided on a model that is working brilliantly that says, ‘Have the conversation with the patient – tell them what happened. There will be a 90-day cooling off period. In that 90 days, you can negotiate a settlement and not give up any rights.”
Walsh said families lose 88 percent of malpractice lawsuits.
“Why does this drive up costs?” Walsh said. “Because doctors are so nervous about being sued that they over test you. They practice defensive medicine.”
Walsh said health care businesses have grown 6.7 to eight per cent, “way over any other growth in any other industry.”
“What we’ve said is that now the health care industry has grow at no more than potential gross state product, 3.6 percent. We want health care growth to be in line with every other business. What this will do is squeeze out $150-$200 billion over 15 years.”
Walsh said that small businesses can expect their premiums to go down “$2,000 per family and that’s real money.”
Summarizing other areas of savings and improvements in the health care bill, Walsh said, “When someone coordinate your health care, when you have your own primary care doctor or nurse practitioner that is taking a real interest in you – not a 12-minute appointment but a 30-minute appointment and there’s a benefit for them if you’re healthy and a benefit for you if your healthy. And that benefit is one, you get to live longer and two, you save money.”