WSJ editorial board: Massachusetts ballot measure would raise healthcare costs


While Massachusetts is home to some of the best hospitals in the nation for patient care, a ballot measure next month proposed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association may lead to higher healthcare costs and reduced access for patients, according to an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal editorial board Oct. 17.

Question 1, which will be placed on the November ballot, limits the number of patients assigned to each registered nurse in state hospitals. Under the measure, pediatric, medical and surgery unit nurses would not be able to care for more than four patients, while critical or intensive care unit nurses and those working in labor and delivery units would be assigned to a single patient, the editorial board states.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association states the proposed nurse staffing restrictions will improve the quality of hospital care across the state.

California is the only other state in the U.S. to enact similar staffing ratios. However, Massachusetts' proposed rule would go further than California's, imposing narrower ratios and no waivers for rural hospitals. While California gave hospitals several years to phase in the quotas, Massachusetts hospitals would have to fully comply by Jan. 1, or face fines of up to $25,000 for each violation.

The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, the state's healthcare watchdog agency, examined the effect of California's nurse staffing quotas and found "no systematic improvement in patient outcomes post-implementation of ratios," the WSJ editorial board notes.

To meet the proposed ratios, hospitals statewide would have to significantly increase their nursing staff, creating an artificial scarcity of nurses and driving up wages and overtime. Costs related to the measure may rise as high as $949 million per year. Patients may also see higher medical bills or see their access to care decrease, as hospitals may have to impose limits on inpatient admissions.

"Voters — future patients nearly all — have every reason to reject Question 1," the WSJ editorial board states.

To access the full op-ed, click here.

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