Massachusetts ponders hospital price controls

A panel charged with keeping Massachusetts healthcare costs under control is recommending price controls on hospitals and other medical providers, State House News Service reports.

The commission recommends that hospitals be required to justify "above-norm" health prices in front of a panel of state healthcare finance officials if insurers refuse to pay them. The panel would be empowered to force insurers to accept a hospital's price or require hospitals to take a lower price.

The embattled insurance industry is touting the recommendation as an implicit acknowledgment that caps on insurance rates aren't succeeding in lowering healthcare costs. Massachusetts has some of the nation's strongest rate review powers; last year, Gov. Deval Patrick's administration rejected almost nine out of 10 rate increase requests.

The recommendation passed 9-1. The president of the Massachusetts Hospital Association voted against it, State House News Service reported, calling it an "extreme and administratively burdensome step" that would give the government power over the private healthcare sector that it "cannot exercise effectively or fairly."