The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation convened the second part of its “Empowering Health Consumers—A Community Conversation” at UMass Medical School in Worcester. The speakers and panel participants all reinforced the need to bring the consumer into the health care conversation. 

We applaud the effort of Undersecretary Barbara Anthony. She is determined to give consumers the tools and transparency they need to make smart, informed decisions about their health care. It was gratifying to hear Dr. John Santa, the Medical Director of Consumer Reports Health laud Massachusetts as being “one step ahead” of the rest of the country and for him to declare at the same time that New York is the “Gettysburg” of health reform. He even went so far as to say that Boston will be the one to “figure out this mess” because of the conversations around involving the consumer. It’s clear that he and many others are still focused on what we are doing in Massachusetts to see whether after providing near universal coverage, we can control costs.

“Transparency” was the mantra and whether it was Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s Eric Schultz or Undersecretary Barbara Anthony, the message was clear: It’s a basic rule of economics,” Anthony said. “The market doesn’t work without transparency. Transparency is the name of the game.” And Dolores Mitchell, Executive Director of the Group Insurance Commission, minced no words as she told the audience: “Transparency works because public shaming works.” 

She also said that “buying healthcare is not the same as buying a TV set. We’re all hostages. We have an obligation to inform ourselves but when we are sick, we are nervous and the health plans and the providers have a responsibility to help us.” She went on to say that we need to be diligent consumers when we purchase our health plans so that we can be confident as patients when we need to use them.

Schultz said the insurers will transform themselves into centers of education.  And W. Patrick Hughes, President and CEO of Fallon Community Health cautioned that it won’t necessarily be easy. “We have to remember that the public reads at a seventh grade level.  It is difficult to engage people who don’t want to engage.”

It was also great to see the MassInsight/AIM Employers and Employees Guide – “How to talk to employees about managing their health care choices” available for attendees.  Solomon McCown partnered with MassInsight on the messaging for the guide. We invite you to take a look at it here.