Report: Health care costs in Massachusetts exceed benchmark
BOSTON >> Health care expenses totaled $57 billion in Massachusetts last year and the rate of increase was once again higher than what state officials had hoped for, according to a new report on Wednesday that nonetheless pointed to some encouraging developments in the fight to rein in soaring medical costs.
The Center for Health Information and Analysis said in its annual review of the state's health care system that total costs — both private and public — rose in 2015 by 3.9 percent over the previous year.
The growth rate exceeded the 3.6 percent benchmark that was established by the state's Health Policy Commission under the guidelines of a 2012 cost containment law. It was also well above last year's .06 percent inflation rate.
The center, also created by the 2012 law, pegged per capita health care costs at $8,424 per resident, up from $8,010 in 2014.
Overall, the report presented a mixed bag of sorts for Massachusetts consumers struggling to keep up with ever-rising health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for medical treatment.
While it was the second year in a row that spending exceeded the benchmark, it missed the goal by less than in 2014, when expenditures rose 4.8 percent. Health care costs in Massachusetts also grew at a slower clip than the U.S. as a whole last year.
Spending by the state's Medicaid program moderated significantly in 2015, rising 4.6 percent as compared to 18 percent during implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act in 2014, the center found. Enrollment in subsidized and non-subsidized coverage offered through the Massachusetts health connector more than doubled as officials resolved technical glitches that plagued the initial rollout of the state's health insurance marketplace.
Still, for many consumers it was another year in which benefit levels declined and companies shifted more risk to their workers.
"To mitigate premium increases, Massachusetts employers and members continue to adopt high deductible health plans, which by design, may subject consumers to higher out-of-pocket costs," the report stated. High deductible plans made up 21 percent of the commercial insurance market in 2015, up from 19 percent the previous year.
Spending on prescription drugs also continued to outpace overall health care costs, rising by more than 10 percent to $8.1 billion last year. While that was below the 13.5 percent increase in 2014, the report said pharmacy spending still accounted for one-third of the total growth in health care spending.
Lora Pellegrini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, called on the state to demand greater transparency from drug-makers.
"The exorbitant prices that pharmaceutical companies are charging for breakthrough drugs, like Sovaldi to treat Hepatitis C, excessive increases in the prices they charge for drugs that have been on the market for decades, such as the EpiPen, or their approach of buying up existing drugs and raising prices significantly, demonstrates the need for aggressive steps to address pharmaceutical prices," Pellegrini said in a statement.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.