What to Expect from Beacon Hill in 2017/2018

Thanksgiving is behind us which means one thing to Beacon Hill and its dedicated followers: the 2017/2018 legislative session is rapidly approaching.

That’s right. Bill filing deadlines, committee assignments, and the influx of State House News Service alerts are just around the corner. Beyond these routine comforts we have come to depend on, what policy issues can we expect will be tackled in the upcoming session? Let’s explore.

Provider Cost Variation
In May 2016, a Special Commission was formed to review the factors contributing to price variation between health care providers as part of a compromise reached between the State Legislature and SEIU 1199, the health care workers’ union. (SEIU was prepared to put forward a ballot measure if the State House failed to take action to create greater equity between the various Massachusetts health care systems.) The 23 person commission has been at work since September and has until March 15, 2017 to make recommendations to the legislature, which leaves five months for the state house to pass legislation—or play another game of political chicken.

Drug Pricing
Home to a number of the nation’s largest biopharma companies, Massachusetts has been at the center of a national conversation around drug pricing and its disproportionate effect on the rise of health care costs. Senator Mark Montigny filed legislation last session that would have required manufacturers of certain, “critical” prescription drugs to maintain and report pricing information. After a contentious and well-attended hearing, the bill was sent to study, preventing it from legislative action. However, during the October Health Policy Commission Cost Trend Hearings, drug pricing was named over and over again in testimony as one of the major factors leading to the increase of health care costs by providers, payers and advocates alike. With similar legislation pending in New York, California, Pennsylvania, Texas, North Carolina and Oregon, we expect Massachusetts won’t be far behind.

Airbnb, Short Term Rentals
During last year’s session, we saw Beacon Hill leaders fiercely debate and ultimately regulate the new transportation companies such as Uber and Lyft. Now, the legislature is prepared to tackle the emerging business technology model of short term rentals. Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO are part of the shared economy infrastructure that allow individuals to host and rent space through an online platform. As recently as November 15th, Speaker DeLeo was quoted saying that he has tasked Chairman Aaron Michelwitz with outlining the challenges facing the state and this new business model and the Chairman has publically listed this issue as one on the top of his policy agenda.

Online Lottery
The popularity of sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings has State Treasurer Deb Goldberg keeping a close eye on the Commonwealth’s gambling competition. How does the state plan to keep place? Speaking to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce in October of this year, Treasurer Goldberg proposed filing legislation to create an online lottery with a corresponding app. With the Treasury recently announcing a decrease in traditional lottery ticket sales, we will likely see support materialize in the State House so that the Lottery’s coffers, which support a number of key state functions, remains strong.

What will you be watching in the new session? Let us know on Twitter at @solomonmccown.

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