BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)–As this summer’s 10-year anniversary of a state health care cost control law approaches, the executive director of a watchdog agency the law created said Wednesday that Massachusetts is now standing at a “unique moment” when it comes to potential additional reforms.

A key principle of the law Gov. Deval Patrick signed on Aug. 6, 2012 was the creation of a health care cost growth benchmark, which is set annually by the Health Policy Commission and used to measure annual spending with the goal of reining in year-to-year increases. After two consecutive years of above-benchmark growth, health care expenditures in Massachusetts declined by 2.4 percent in 2020 amid the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first year.

On Wednesday, the Health Policy Commission unanimously agreed to set the spending growth target for 2023 at 3.6 percent, the same pace at which budget-writers expect the gross state product to grow.

HPC Chair Stuart Altman said the 3.6 percent benchmark reflects both “our strong commitment to cost containment” and a recognition of continued uncertainty in a health care system rebounding from pandemic lows. “We cannot take our foot off the brake and we need to continue to slow the growth in spending if we are going to have a health care system which is affordable for all of our citizens,” Altman said. “But we also can’t be unmindful of these currents which are not normal in any stretch of the imagination, nor do we want to shortchange our health system as it copes with these problems.”

When the HPC informs lawmakers of its benchmark decision, it will also remind them of a handful of recommendations the commission has made for bolstering the state’s cost-control strategy. HPC Executive Director David Seltz said the recommendations, contained in the commission’s most recent cost trends report, complement health care bills that the House and Senate have each separately passed and a reform package from Gov. Charlie Baker, which had a hearing before the Health Care Financing Committee on Monday.

Baker’s bill, among other measures, would require greater investments in behavioral health and primary care while remaining within the overall cost-control framework. The Senate has passed prescription drug and behavioral health access bills, and the House’s bill deals with oversight of hospital system expansions.

“As we approach this 10 year anniversary of the HPC, and the establishment of this law, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on what has worked, maybe what hasn’t, what can be improved on and the lessons learned,” Seltz said. “I would also say I believe that this is a really unique moment as well, as the speaker, the Senate president and the governor have all been advocating for health care policy reforms this session.”

Seltz highlighted the commission’s recommendations for strengthening accountability for excessive spending, including through financial penalties and more flexibility around which entities are referred to the HPC for performance improvement plans, and for addressing high provider prices, which he called “the primary driver of health care spending in the commonwealth.”

The commission has also suggested a shift of resources over time to high-value services like primary care and behavioral health, which Seltz described as a “hallmark and centerpiece” of Baker’s proposal.

Commissioner David Cutler said there seems to be “a lot of energy into tackling some of these issues now.” “So I think now would be a very good time for us to continue to step up our efforts to push some of these topics,” he said.