Editorial New Committees Promise Progress In Health Care

Rob Simpson, medical director of Providence Behavioral Health, calls it a “great leap forward.” 

We hope he’s right.

Simpson was referring to a recent decision by state legislative leaders to create two new committees to handle health care matters and restructure two previously existing committees into what many are calling a ‘health care ways and means committee.’

Simpson was particularly excited about the creation of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, a panel he believes will give better, more focused attention to the many issues impacting this often overlooked aspect of the broad health care sector.

And while our enthusiasm is slightly more tempered than Simpson’s, we share his optimism and believe that any time you put more minds to work on the challenges facing health care providers in this state, the better they and the people they serve will be.

The re-tooling of the health committees came as part of a broader overhaul of House and Senate committees requested by Senate President Robert Travaglini and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi. The review was sought to curb redundancies, eliminate committees that had outlived their missions, and recognize societal changes since the last great committee review in 1967.

And while cynics would say that the Legislature has added some bureaucracy to a system that already had too much — while also creating more chairmanship stipends for colleagues — we believe the changes, at least in the health care realm, will yield many positive benefits.

For starters, the new Joint Committee on Health Care Financing will be able to direct all of its energies to the issues involving the cost of care. The Joint Committee on Health Care, which existed previously, was more of a catch-all panel that had to contend with hundreds of bills pertaining to subjects ranging from nurse staffing levels to HMO coverage. It will now have a more narrowly defined mission, which should allow for more thorough examination of the issues.

Meanwhile, the creation of two new joint committees should bring more legislative attention to two areas within the health care that are often overlooked.
The Joint Committee on Public Health should focus more energy on the subject of prevention — and it’s certainly needed.

Indeed, the Legislature — and society in general — seems to be preoccupied with treating disease. Preventing disease would ultimately create a healthier population and bring down the cost of providing care to everyone.

The Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, meanwhile, was created, in the words of the chairmen of the ad-hoc panel that reviewed the committee infrastructure, out of “greater understanding that mental health is just as important as physical health.”

Simpson believes that this fact is lost on most people, as is the mounting evidence that many, if not most, physical problems are caused by or exacerbated by a mental health condition or substance abuse.

Simpson and others in the health care field believe that mental health and substance abuse have been stigmatized by society, by those that pay the health care bills, and by those who draft health care legislation. They say that a separate committee addressing those fields certainly can’t hurt — and it may very well help. We agree.

When all is said and done, however, it’s not the number of committees devoted to health care that matters, but the overall commitment among legislators to give this vital sector its proper due.

In theory, by dividing the broad health care pie into three committees, legislators can provide closer, more thorough examination of the all the issues.
Let’s hope that theory proves to be valid.

Simpson says the proof will be in the pudding, and there’s “a lot of pudding.”