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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Altman’s new appointment reflects decades of experience

Published: November 15, 2012
Section: News

Professor Stuart Altman (HS) was appointed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick on Nov. 1 to chair a new Massachusetts state health commission that will set health care spending goals and track health care providers’ success in reducing costs.

The 11-member Health Policy Board was created to enforce a new health care reform law. With the new law, Massachusetts becomes the first state to attempt to reduce both private and public health care spending, so that it cannot grow at a faster rate than that of the state economy through 2017. From 2018 to 2022, any rise in health care costs would have to be at least half-a-percentage-point lower than the increase in the state’s gross domestic product.

Six years ago under former governor Mitt Romney, Massachusetts became the first state to require the majority of residents to have health insurance. Massachusetts’ health insurance mandates served as the model for President Obama’s recent national health care program. While the program insisted that most residents have health insurance, the 2006 law did little to slow health care costs.

While Massachusetts has grown at rate of approximately 4 percent per annum, spending on health care has increased as much as 7 percent.

In an interview, Altman explained his role on the new health care policy board, which “is responsible for overseeing that law and designed to improve the quality of health care while reducing its cost,” he said.

“This is the first law of its kind, the first law that aims to reduce the cost of health care in the state while improving its quality. The committee oversees the key provisions of that law,” Altman said.

The bill, if properly administered, could potentially save as much as $200 billion in health care spending during the next 15 years.

Altman was chosen to chair the new commission due to his experience in the health care field. He served 12 years as chairman of the congressionally legislated Prospective Payment Assessment Commission, advising Congress and the Administration on the Medicare Diagnostic Related Group (DRG) Hospital Payment System and other system reforms. He is also chair of The Health Industry Forum, which brings together leaders from across the health care field to develop solutions for critical problems facing the health care system.

“I have a lot of experience and have held a number of senior positions in the health care field, which is why I think the Governor came to me to chair the commission,” he said.

Altman has been the recipient of many awards, including being a member of the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences in 1996, Person of the Year, Medicine and Health, in recognition of “courageous stand” on the Medicare Commission in 1999 and was included in Modern Health Care’s 100 Most Powerful People in Health Care in both 2004 and 2010.

For Altman, accepting the position was simple. “Health care is something I’ve been very much involved in for the past 40 years. When someone offers you a job in something you are interested in, in a state you care about so much, it’s hard to say no to that.”

With the recent presidential election finished and Obama remaining in the White House, advocates hope health care reform will begin spreading throughout the country, with Massachusetts’ new law being a model that other states will hopefully follow.

“The recent presidential election definitely affects the future of health care,” Altman said. “Obama’s victory solidifies the continuation and implementation of the national health care reform. If Romney had won, Obama’s health care reform act might have been repealed. Now, however, President Obama can work on putting the act into action and help securing health care reform in the entire United States.”