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The Associated Press June 6, 2012, 12:21PM ET

Mass. House passes health care cost bill

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has passed a proposal that aims to reel in the state's spiraling health care costs by $160 billion over the next 15 years. The House and Senate must now resolve their differences over the measure before it can go to Gov. Deval Patrick.

Lawmakers have been working on legislation that tries to lower the costs resulting from the 2006 landmark Massachusetts health care legislation that mandates health insurance for nearly all state residents. The House passed its version of the bill 148-7 late Tuesday night.

This bill aims to contain health care costs by evening out disparities in the prices of health services. It would require hospitals that charge more than 20 percent above the state median price for a service to pay a 10 percent surcharge.

It also focuses on workforce development, overhauls medical malpractice laws and adopts alternative payment methods, such as global and bundled payments for services.

A conference committee will now reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill, which differ on certain provisions like the surcharge on hospitals and other health care providers. The Senate bill does not call for any surcharge.

Patrick, a Democrat, told reporters Wednesday that he is looking forward to the work of the committee.

"I'm confident we are going to get to a great and final bill," he said. "It will be a good bill for patients and for the industry as well."

During debate on the bill, Rep. Steven Walsh, D-Lynn, said health care costs in Massachusetts have been rising from 6.7 percent to 8 percent annually, with the state spending $66 billion on health care last year

Signed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2006 law dramatically expanded access to health coverage in Massachusetts. But premiums and other health care costs have threatened to undermine the law's long-term fiscal stability.

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