Study would ID health cost drivers

Representatives of the business community and medical industry are lobbying for a bill to learn the forces behind rising health-care costs, along with insurance premiums.

House Bill 1555 would set up a commission of lawmakers and key stakeholders to look at the interplay of technology, demographics, drug price inflation, federal reimbursement levels, malpractice litigation, uninsured patients, labor shortages, new medical services, regional variables, cost-shifting and other factors.

Rep. Jim McKay, R-Concord, the bill’s prime sponsor, hopes the commisison generates findings that will lead to some well-informed bills in the 2007 session. He said its work would parallel the efforts of a long-term health-care coalition that Gov. John Lynch called together in 2005. He read off a long list of players for the commission and left the door open for more to join.

“We may have to go to the Verizon center to hold our meetings,” McKay joked.

Jim Roche, president of the Business and Industry Association, said its 400 member firms held 14 focus groups this summer and businesses taking part consistently ranked health-care costs as their biggest problem.

“A recent statewide survey conducted on the BIA’s behalf confirmed the urgency of this issue,” he said. “No matter the size of business, their message is clear” ‘Do something about the ever-increasing cost of health care.’ We hope the study finds some low-hanging fruit we can turn into legislation next year.”

Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, a bill co-sponsor, said the measure emerged from those BIA forums.

“They certainly have a stake,” she said of New Hampshire businesses. “More than 55 percent of private sector employees get health insurance though their employers. We rely on business to underwrite the cost, and they need to be represented at any meaningful discussion of cost.”

Curtis Barry, lobbyist for the Retail Merchants Association of New Hampshire, asked that his group have a seat on the commission.

“The rapidly rising cost of health care is an impediment to hiring new people,” he said.

Jeff Brown, public affairs director of the Professional Firefighters Association, said his members also would like a seat at the table. His members serve 80 percent of the state’s residents, he said, often as the first medical providers people see.

“Some of the major cost-shifting is into the area of emergency services,” he said. “We’re in a unique position to provide information.”

Lawmakers face a plethora of related bills this term. Roche said his group opposes the so-called “Wal-Mart Bill,” which would force large employers to spend a minimum of 8 percent of their payroll on health benefits. But it strongly supports full transparency in medical pricing and quality. Several bills would collect that kind of data for consumers and policymakers alike.

Paula Minnehan, a lobbyist for the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said her group’s 32 members support the bill as well. She told NHBR Daily that the association favors transparency as well.

“We believe educating lawmakers and the public about cost drivers is important,” she said. – CHRIS DORNIN/GOLDEN DOME NEWS SERVICE

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