Massachusetts Health Care Transparency: Bright Enough Spotlight?

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Massachusetts officials published online this week a database containing “payments drug companies and medical device makers made to hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care providers in the state.”

This is a move in the right direction for transparency, but I have to wonder why these two industries were the sole targets. I know the Legislature has focused on gift restrictions in past legislation, but why the narrow focus.

While it is nice to be able to download the data in a spreadsheet and manipulate it yourself, the site is not the most user-friendly. For example, it took me 10 clicks deep to get to an individual report. There is much more work ahead before an average consumer would utilize a program along these lines to inform their health care choices, and there are lessons to be learned from this release.

The Division of Health Care Finance and Policy (DHCFP) is moving ahead with its all All-Payer Claims Database (APCD).

The APCD will provide timely, valid, and reliable health care claims data for the purposes of informing the development of health care policies in the Commonwealth and inform the development of performance measures to evaluate payment methodologies and support integrated health care delivery models

Pioneer has in fact recognized the idea of a database at our Better Government Competition. The time line set out on the DHCFP website puts the first round of publicly available data out in the fall of 2011. As a result, the department has plenty of time to receive user feedback to ensure the APCD will maximize public benefit and is as accessible as possible.

Attorney General Martha Coakley was right last week to buck the conventional wisdom that is developing on Beacon Hill, that payment reform is the silver bullet for cost control. Price transparency has a more realistic chance of system wide transformation and short/mid-term savings with minimal government intervention. Of course, this is in contrast to the 5-10 year window for global payments with the possibility of government price controls.