Healey praises community hospitals, cites concern over fate of ACA

SALISBURY — Hailed by the head of Anna Jaques Hospital as a champion of health care, Attorney General Maura Healey delivered a clear message to the crowd Thursday night gathered for the hospital’s annual meeting.

“Community hospitals are the fabric of their communities,” she said. 

Praising Anna Jaques for providing quality care to the region, she pledged to work to ensure all Massachusetts residents can access medical care at an affordable price, in spite of the uncertainty over the fate of the Affordable Care Act being debated in Washington.

Healey said she is worried about how the Trump administration will move on the fate of the ACA, she said. Decisions made in the Oval Office and Congress will determine how many federal dollars come to Massachusetts — and that could be a significant issue for local hospitals and residents.

During the campaign, Donald Trump pledged to “repeal and replace” the ACA, she said, although his rhetoric has modified since taking office. She admits the act isn’t perfect, but for Healey, that’s no reason to scrap it. The result could be dramatic cuts in funding, leaving as many as 20 million people without health insurance.

“If you don’t like your heating bill, you don’t go out and burn down your house,” she said. “You fix it.”

Other health care priorities for her office include delving into the disparity in payments hospitals receive from commercial insurers, something hospital President Mark Goldstein said is important to small community hospitals like Anna Jaques. 

“Since 2011, we’ve looked at health care spending by zip code,” Healey told the packed house at Salisbury Beach’s Blue Ocean Music Hall. “What we found is we’re spending more on health care in our wealthier communities.”  

And there’s more that goes into being healthy than many perceive, she said. Nutrition, safe housing, and access to education contribute to living healthy lives.  

The social determinants of health care relate to the substance abuse crisis gripping New England, she said, an issue she has made a priority. One of the first places in the region she visited since taking office in 2015 was Salisbury’s Maris Center, which helps women with addiction issues transition from prison back to normal lives.

The opioid crisis is a problem that must be fought regionally and on many fronts, including law enforcement, treatment, recovery, as well as drug monitoring programs for those who prescribe and distribute prescription drugs, she said. 

“And we’ve fallen short in (substance abuse) education and prevention for second, third, fourth and fifth graders,” she said.  

After bringing in about $700,000 from pharmacies for substance abuse grant programs, Healey was amazed when she received grant requests for more than $4 million.

Her office intends to offer other grants when money is available. She recommended keeping an eye on the attorney general’s website for new opportunities. 

With her parents in the audience and a family history in Newburyport and on the New Hampshire seacoast, Healey clearly felt a home court advantage Thursday night. 

“My roots run deep through this area,” she said. “My mother was a candy-striper at Anna Jaques. We have great hospitals across the state, including Anna Jaques; I just saw your ranking. You are the backbone of the community.” 

Angeljean Chiaramida can be reached at 978-961-3147, at achiaramida@newburyportnews.com, or follow her on Twitter @achiaramida1.