What Hurts Bottle Bill Expanders More: Ads that Lie or a Case that Doesn't Cut It?

Friday, October 10, 2014

On July 9, I posted an item on what I considered the weak point in the case for Question 2.  If interested, you can read it by clicking on: http://pretiminahan.blogspot.com/2014/07/bottle-bill-expanders-have-problem-laws.html

Question 2 on the November 4 ballot proposes to amend the Bottle Bill by requiring deposits on a wider array of beverage containers. 
Under the existing version of the Bottle Bill, we have to pay a five-cent deposit on every beer and soda can or bottle we buy. If Question 2 passes, we’ll have to pay deposits, as well, on containers for all non-alcoholic, non-carbonated drinks.

I said on July 9 that voters could reject Question 2 because: (a) tens of millions of dollars in container deposits go unclaimed every year, and (b) those unclaimed deposits wind up in the state’s general fund, where they support the overall functioning of our government.
“When Bottle Bill foes complain that the law is outmoded, and that it has created an everlasting, hidden tax and a spending crutch for the legislature and governor to quietly lean on, it’s hard to dismiss those arguments out of hand,” I said.

I should have searched for the actual text of Question 2 before writing on this topic.  It was clearly a mistake not to…but I don’t know if it was a mistake so large as to negate my fundamental point, which was that voters are naturally skeptical of the effectiveness of government spending and reluctant to put new dollars in government hands.
If I had read the Question 2 text, I would have seen the subsection of the amended version of the Bottle Bill calling for creation of a stand-alone account to be known as the Clean Environment Fund.  All abandoned deposits collected under the Bottle Bill shall be deposited into this new fund, the subsection stipulates, and the fund “shall be used, subject to appropriation, for programs including but not limited to projects supporting the proper management of solid waste, water resource protection, parkland, urban forestry, air quality and climate protection.”

At first blush, the Clean Environment Fund looks like the perfect answer to those who complain that an expanded Bottle Bill will only give government more money to play with.  No longer would abandoned, or unclaimed, deposits go to the general fund, where they could be spent on anything.  Instead, they’d be sequestered and could be spent only on projects good for the environment.
Well, not exactly. 

The bill language contains that key phrase of lawmaking: subject to appropriation.  That means the legislature would have to vote specifically every year to authorize expenditures from the Clean Energy Fund on those enumerated environmental purposes: “the proper management of solid waste,” and so on.
In a bad year, a time when the state budget is running in the red, the legislature could vote to take money from the fund and spend it on something deemed more urgent -- health care or law enforcement, for example.

Even in a not-so-bad year, like the one we’re having now, the legislature could vote to take money from the fund and spend it on something like a larger workforce in the Department of Children and Families.  It would not be hard to make the argument that we need social workers to protect vulnerable kids more than we need new parks, say, in 20 different middle-class suburbs.
One has to wonder, also, about the elasticity of terms like “water resource protection,” “parkland,” “urban forestry,” and “climate protection.”  Legislators of a creative bent, which is to say any veteran rep or senator who knows her way around the budget process, could make a lot of projects in their districts fit those categories: a new road that happens to better protect an aquifer from salt run-off, new trees on Main Street, a new baseball diamond at the high school, solar panels at city hall to reduce the burning of oil to heat the building, etc.

Well over $30 million in container deposits will go unclaimed during the current fiscal year.   If the new version of the Bottle Bill becomes law, that figure could increase by as much as $20 million.
This past summer, proponents of expanding the Bottle Bill were touting polls indicating that 62% of Massachusetts voters favored the expansion.

Now that the polls have flipped, with 60% saying they oppose expansion, the “STOP Litter: YES on 2” group is blaming their declining prospects on a big-budget, deceptive advertising campaign by the “NO on Question 2: STOP Forced Deposits” group, which they say is just a front for the beverage and bottling industries.
That may be the case.  It could also be that voters are taking a close look at what an amended Bottle Bill would do and are thinking the results would be nebulous, burdensome, and not worth the costs.

Ever Increasing Municipal Retiree Health Costs a Big Problem in Places Like Everett

Friday, October 3, 2014

After reading the latest Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF) bulletin on the oversized burden retiree health care costs put on municipal budgets, my first reaction was, Steve Wynn can’t build that casino in Everett fast enough.

Everett was cited in the bulletin because it is a good example of a bad situation -- a place where the average citizen barely gets by, and where the cost of providing health coverage to retired municipal employees consumes an ever larger share of local revenue.

An independent non-profit research organization, the MTF used two criteria in selecting Everett and eight other municipalities for analysis.  First, a city or town had to have a population of at least 10,000.  Second, the average annual per capita income in that city or town had to be among the lowest in the state.  Besides Everett, those municipalities are Amherst, Chelsea, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Lawrence, New Bedford, North Adams and Springfield.

“Between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2013, the total costs for retiree health care coverage in the nine municipalities rose from $71.8 million to $88.8 million, an increase of 24 percent, while property taxes grew at half that rate, a modest 12.1 percent,” the bulletin said. 

The bulletin said that “The jump in retiree health care spending is especially striking when considered in the context of the tiny two percent growth in the total budgets of these nine communities between 2009 and 2013.” 
The bulletin pointed to the irony of local taxpayers funding a benefit for municipal retirees “that most of them do not receive,” i.e., private health coverage in their golden years.
“Few residents have access to any (private) retiree health care benefits themselves,” the bulletin said, “let alone the generous ones provided by municipalities.” 

It went on to cite figures from the Agency for Health Care Quality and Research showing that, in 2013, only 7.3 percent of Massachusetts private sector establishments offered health insurance to retirees over age 65, and only 8.8 percent offered it to retirees prior to age 65.
The MTF has long argued that the system governing health care benefits for retired public employees should be reformed.  It restated that case in its latest bulletin.  The MTF called upon the legislature, for example, to double the years that a municipal (or state) employee must work before qualifying for health benefits in retirement, from 10 to 20, and to eliminate altogether pre-Medicare coverage for retirees.

If I were back living in Everett, I’d be writing letters now to my rep and senator asking them to support every change in the system supported by the MTF.  Otherwise, I’d say, the tens of millions of dollars promised to the city every year by the Wynn Everett casino might end up going mainly to retiree health care.
Of course, retired city workers, once they got wind of my letters, would soon be writing letters to the same legislators saying don't you dare change that system.

To find the MTF bulletin, go to the foundation’s website, www.masstaxpayers.org and click on “Retiree Health Care Costs Are Straining Budgets in the State’s Poorest Cities.”






Blogster's Miscellany: Casino Foes' Woes. Photo-Ready Plates. A Clinton BFF

Thursday, September 25, 2014

DID ANTI-CASINO GROUP PEAK 10 MONTHS AGO? As the ballot fight over repeal of the state’s casino-enabling legislation nears its decisive phase, Repeal the Casino Deal (RCD) looks like it’s gasping for breath.  The State House News Service reported earlier this week that the group “owes consultants, lawyers and supporters about $440,000 and has less than $11,000 in cash.”  An RCD spokesman, David Guarino, put a brave face on that body of red ink.  “While we always knew we would be out-spent by the deep-pocketed casino bosses who wrote two checks to fund the first $1.7 million of their campaign, we are encouraged by the steady growth in support for stopping the casino mess,” said Guarino, a principal of Melwood Global.  RCD reportedly owes $36,000 to Guarino’s firm alone.  Question 3 on the Nov. 4 ballot, if approved by the voters, would repeal the state’s casino law.  If voters reject Question 3 – and polls to date suggest it will be defeated -- we will look back at November of 2013 as RCD’s high-water mark.  That was when the group led a successful local referendum in East Boston against a casino at Suffolk Downs, a defeat that surely had some impact on the decision last week by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to grant the Eastern Massachusetts casino license to Wynn Resorts for its proposed casino in Everett.  The losing alternative was for a casino located entirely on the Revere side of Suffolk Downs.  The Suffolk Downs folks have said the final races at the track, probably ever, will be held on Saturday, Oct. 4.  I grew up in Revere.  My uncle was on the City Council when the track was approved and built in the Thirties.  My father worked a second job on Saturdays at the track for many years during racing season, counting money.  Though I never placed a bet there, I am sentimentally attached to the old place. I’ll be sad to see it go…but I’ll get over it quickly.  What will eventually arise on those 130 acres in Revere and East Boston now occupied by the racetrack will be so good as to make us wonder why we ever thought it was a good idea to have horses racing there.  With direct access to the MBTA’s Blue Line, it has huge upside potential as a mixed-used development with housing (apartments and condos), shopping and offices -- and room left over for plenty of green space.  It doesn’t strain the imagination, for example, to see a beautiful elevated pedestrian walkway/bicycle path bringing hundreds of residents and visitors from “Suffolk Downs Village” to nearby Revere Beach every day when the sun is shining.  By contrast, it’s hard to see something good and exciting being built on the Everett casino site, a former Monsanto chemical factory, if Steve Wynn isn’t in the picture because the site is severely contaminated and it will cost upwards of $30 million to clean it up.  Wynn has $1.6 billion on hand to build the Everett casino and can take the clean-up costs in stride in a way that a regular real estate developer can't do.  The Gaming Commission must have regarded the site clean-up as a big plus for Everett,  Charlestown and Somerville, and for the Mystic River and Boston Harbor, whose waters are threatened by toxins washed from the site by rainwater.  The commission must have given Wynn’s proposal extra credit for the enviro-clean-up.

CONCERN FOR YOUR LICENSE PLATE NEVER HIGHER.   Now that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has moved to all-electronic tolling (E-ZPass) on the Tobin Bridge and will move similarly on all toll roads in the state within the next two years, there’s a sharper focus on the condition of license plates.  Today, if you take the bridge over mystic waters from Chelsea to Boston and you don’t have an E-ZPass transponder in your window, a camera takes a picture of your plate, and you will soon receive in the mail a bill for the full toll.  This is the so-called Pay-By-Plate option.   A plate that cannot be recorded clearly and fully by a camera thus gives a motorist an edge over the state in the never-ending battle between revenue collectors and revenue payers.  So it’s no surprise that the State Police are stepping up enforcement of Section 6 of Chapter 90 of the Massachusetts General Laws, which requires that license plates be plainly and fully visible, and that the plate numbers and letters be legible from a good distance.  (Vehicle inspection stations have long been instructed to fail a vehicle if the plate cannot be read from 60 feet away.)  According to an August 5th MassDOT press release, state and local police issued approximately 4,000 citations for obscured and illegible plates during the first six months of this year.  “We want to warn motorists about the legible plate requirement and also encourage everyone to sign up for E-ZPass,” said Highway Administrator Frank DePaola at that time.  First-time violators of the visible/legible plate requirements are fined $35.  For a second offense, the fine is $75, and for the third, $150.

PORTENT OF A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY.  A man well known around Boston was in Washington, D.C., not long ago when Lou D’Allesandro, an East Boston native who’s had a long and distinguished political career in his adopted state of New Hampshire, personally invited him to a D’Allesandro fundraiser there that evening.  A football star at UNH in his younger days, D’Allesandro has been in the 24-member New Hampshire senate since the late-Nineties, serving a district centered in Manchester.  “You should come,” Lou told the man from Boston.  “There’s going to be a special guest, someone you’d definitely like to say hello to.”  “Who might that be?” asked the man.  Lou answered with one word: “Hillary.”  Seventeen months before the nation’s first presidential primary, Hillary Clinton is lending her star power to a fundraiser for one electorally secure New Hampshire legislator. She must be running for president -- coyly running, but running, running, running.

It Hurts to Lose a Seat in Congress. But after the Hurt Comes the Relief Package

Thursday, September 18, 2014

I have never met John Tierney.  I have never had a reason to ask for a meeting with him or a member of his staff for one of our clients. Tierney holds a federal office, United States Representative, and we do most of our work at the state and municipal levels of government.

However, I happen to know a lot of persons who know Tierney or have dealt with him on various matters through the years.  He’s been in the Congress since 1998. They all say Tierney’s a good, down-to-earth person, a man you can trust, a guy who delivers on what he tells you.  They also say he’s easy to take, no fathead.

I take as Exhibit A of Tierney’s “good guy-ness” that young, fresh-faced, sincere, teetotaling Joe Kennedy the Third was out campaigning for him just a little while ago.  Kennedy didn’t owe Tierney anything.  Nor did he need him to keep moving up the ladder.

As everyone who follows politics knows, the voters of the Sixth Massachusetts District gave Tierney the boot nine days ago.  He lost the Democratic nomination for re-election to his House seat to Seth Moulton.  The margin of defeat was decisive.
Today, September 18, as Tierney celebrates his sixty-third birthday, he is likely reflecting upon both his past and his future.  Unlike a lot of persons his age who’ve been forced from a job, he has some good options for future employment.  He’s a member of the bar and could restart his private law practice in Salem, his hometown, without much difficulty.  He could also do what a lot of former lawmakers do these days: become a lobbyist.  Or he could simply decide to retire when his term’s up.  He could do what Al Pacino, age 73, said in a recent article in the New Yorker he has no interest in doing: “Smell the golf balls.”

Tierney qualifies for the kind of pension and other retirement benefits that the vast majority of Americans will never attain.*  By my rough, non-expert calculation, which is based on the average annual salary for a U.S. representative, $172,443, and on Tierney’s 16 years in the Congress, he could collect a federal pension amounting to $49,663 every year for the rest his life.
The average 63-year-old man in the U.S. today can expect to live to age 84, according to the Social Security Administration.  If Tierney starts collecting his federal pension upon leaving office in January and if he lives for 84 years, his total pension income would come to $1,042,923, (21 times $49,663).

It’s also possible that Tierney qualifies for monthly payments from Social Security and from a federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). 

If, upon taking office in January, 1998, Tierney had joined the TSP, the federal government would have contributed the equivalent of 1 percent of his salary to his account every year whether or not Tierney himself made contributions to it.  If Tierney has contributed, the government would have equally matched those contributions, up to 5 percent, every year.
So, for example, if Tierney contributed 5 percent of his annual gross salary to a TSP in 2013, his personal contribution would have amounted to $8,622, (based on the average annual salary of U.S. reps), and Uncle Sam would have matched that contribution and added another 1 percent -- the “give-away” portion built into the system.  His accumulated retirement savings for just last year would have, in that scenario, totaled $18,968.73.

Don’t forget health coverage. 
As a retired Congressman, Tierney may obtain insurance for him and his wife for the rest of their lives through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that fewer than one in five persons working in the private sector today qualify for a pension; thirty years ago, that situation was reversed: more than four in five qualified.
It’s tough to lose an election.  Given the way so many voters said afterward that Tierney had been around long enough and that it was time for a new face, his defeat on September 9 was no doubt particularly painful. 

I’ve heard former elected officials describe their losses as a kind of “public death.”  Think about it.  The average person who gets downsized doesn’t have to get up the next morning to find his picture on the front page of the Boston Globe.
I wish John Tierney the best.  I won't hold it against him if he takes all the pension money, retirement account payouts, Social Security checks, and health coverage he’s entitled to by law.  I would not have the necessary wealth, nor would I be so self-less or patriotic, as to refuse those things if I was in his place.

On balance, we have to say that the electorate is a kindly and generous beast.  Else why would it countenance so much relief to those who must endure the demise of their public lives?
*Members of Congress, representatives and senators alike, need to serve only five years in order to qualify for a pension.






Suddenly, It Seems, an Ex-Selectman Is on Verge of Becoming State Treasurer

Friday, September 12, 2014

Politics is a strange and wonderful thing.  Consider that the last and only time Deb Goldberg held elective office was from 1998 to 2004 when she served on the Brookline board of selectmen, and that she’s now about eight weeks away from being elected State Treasurer, a constitutional office -- annual salary: $125,000 -- that will put her in charge of about $46 billion in public assets.  It’s a situation that evokes John F. Kennedy’s observation to the effect that “Anyone who would discount the importance of politics ought to consider that it was politics that took a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy and in fourteen years made him commander-in-chief.”

No doubt there were folks besides Goldberg and her family and friends who saw her victory coming this past Tuesday in the race for the Democratic nomination for treasurer, but I was not among them.  Even after she received the most votes for the nomination at the party’s June 14 convention, Godlberg’s candidacy never much figured in my thoughts -- yet another illustration of my nearly fatal lack of perspicacity. Oh, well.
At 7:00 p.m. on June 14, as the Democrat convention limped to a close, the party decided not to bestow its endorsement for Treasurer on Goldberg because she was one of three candidates who had received at least 15% of the convention votes, the threshold for getting on the primary election ballot.  Goldberg won 38.9% of the delegates' votes that day, while Wayland State Representative Tom Conroy and Andover State Senator Barry Fine gold took 33.9% and 27.1%, respectively.

The last poll I saw, on Friday, September 5, in the Boston Globe’s nifty, new “Capital” section, had Finegold leading, with the support of 21% of survey respondents, followed by Goldberg at 15% and Conroy at 14%.  Four days before the election, in other words, the region’s premier news organ put Goldberg one percentage point ahead of the person who ended up last in that particular race. 
Here are the primary vote totals: Goldberg, 202,077 (42.7%); Finegold, 149,188 (31.5%); Conroy, 121,802 (25.7%).

Goldberg, who is 60 years old, is nothing if not a portrait of the power of persistence.  After leaving the select board in 2004, she ran in 2006 for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor and finished second in a three-way contest behind then-Worcester Mayor Tim Murray.  She waited almost eight years to emerge from political hibernation on February 27 of this year and announce for treasurer.  It’s fair  to say that, at that point, her profile was noticeably lower than that of Senator Finegold, who’d been kind of a big deal in the Merrimack Valley for at least a decade, and of Representative Conroy, who’d attracted statewide attention in 2012 during an unsuccessful-and-ultimately-aborted campaign for the Democrat nomination for U.S. Senate, a prize ultimately taken by Elizabeth Warren, the bane of Scott Brown’s existence.
Goldberg’s treasureship is an almost-but-not-quite-accomplished fact.  She faces a Republican opponent in November: Michael Heffernan, a financial services professional from Wellesley, one of the few places in the world with real estate prices in the Brookline range.  But just by being a Democrat on the ballot in Massachusetts, Goldberg has to be rated a prohibitive favorite.

Goldberg’s background suggests she won't have much trouble with the duties of chief state financial officer: she has a bachelor’s from Boston University, a law degree from Boston College, and a master’s in business from Harvard.  More tellingly, she’s from the immigrant family that launched Stop and Shop, the largest chain of grocery stores in New England; the Goldbergs are an accomplished lot.  
One day, we should expect to see Treasurer Goldberg running for governor.  That is what treasurers in Massachusetts do.  (Apparently, there’s plenty of time on that job for dreaming and scheming.)

Goldberg will be bucking the odds if/when she goes for governor.  The last four treasurers -- Steve Grossman, Tim Cahill, Shannon O’Brien and Joe Malone – have all run for governor, and each, in his or her turn, has suffered defeat.
Yet Goldberg now has a credible chance of becoming governor.  If that happens in 2018, she will have made the jump from selectman to governor in less than 15 years. 

She deserves more than one ovation for putting herself in such a neat position.

On Fifth Anniversary of Kennedy's Death, I Found Myself Reflecting on a Particular Fact

Friday, August 29, 2014

This past Monday, August 25, on the fifth anniversary of the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, I eagerly read Marty Nolan’s column in the Globe: “Obama’s Kennedy.  Five years ago, the president lost his only real friend in Congress.”  I thought how good it was to be reading something by Nolan again; he’s been retired a while and no one has replaced him, if you know what I mean.   I also found myself thinking of the times I’d met Senator Kennedy and of how good he was, as so many public persons are, at shielding his actual self from the persons who came at him without end…

On a weekday morning, late in November of 1997, there was a large group of mourners gathered at a funeral home on Broadway, Everett, waiting on Ted Kennedy. 
This was the day of the requiem Mass for Joseph A. Curnane, Sr., a friend of Kennedy’s for nearly 40 years.  The senator had called the deceased’s son and namesake, young Joe Curnane, to say he was stuck in traffic.

 “Could you hold things up a bit?” the senator asked.
He wanted to see his friend one last time, to pay his respects properly. 

The time to form the cortege to the Immaculate Conception Church was drawing near. 
A few minutes later, the senator walked in, alone, to the funeral home.  He offered his condolences to the widow, the former Rosemary Murdock, once the most beautiful girl in Everett.  He had a gentle word, too, for each of Mr. Curnane’s four children.

Then the senator made his way purposefully through the room to the casket.  He knelt in prayer for half a minute, stood, and moved back two or three steps.  He did not take his eyes from the figure of his friend, a campaign warhorse he’d inherited from his brother the President.
No one spoke above a murmur.  No one approached their senator.  It was right, everyone knew, to let him have at least a moment on his own to reflect and to grieve.

The senator turned to his left, where I happened to be standing.  I introduced myself and shook his hand.
“Joe was my father-in-law,” I said.

“An amazing man,” the senator said. “Incredible.”
“Oh, yes.  He was…He was,” I said.

Neither of us seemed to know what to say next.  We stared at the exquisitely crafted wooden casket, nestled in a wall of flowers.
Fidgety, I blurted out: “He hated lies.”

The senator turned abruptly to me.  His eyes had a look of alertness, as if he had been stung.  It was an unguarded look from a naturally guarded man, something I’d never observed in previous encounters with him.
“That was like my father,” Ted said. “He hated lies more than anything.  You did not want to lie to him.”

I searched my mind for something that would keep the conversation spinning that fiber of the personal.  I hoped that I might have an honest-to-goodness conversation with a living legend of American politics.  Maybe I should say something to him about my father, I wondered. 
Before I was able to speak, the senator turned and shuffled off through the crowd.

Was he more mindful of the clock than I? 
His car was waiting.  Perhaps he wanted another look at the eulogy he was about to give at the church.

Or did he want to head off a too-personal conversation, however brief, with yet another stranger, an in-law no less?


Now Comes the 'Moore Commission' to Corral Growing Herd of Surgical Robots

Friday, August 22, 2014

Senator Dick Moore, Democrat of Uxbridge, has his robotic surgery bill on the verge of enactment, and that’s a good thing.

The Massachusetts Senate, where Moore serves as President Pro Tem, second only to the President herself, passed An Act Relative to Robotic Surgery on July 11. 
The legislature’s Joint Committee on Rules gave the bill, now designated Senate Bill 2261, an “ought to pass” recommendation on August 14 and sent it to the House Committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling.

Steering Policy and Scheduling placed SB2261 in the Orders of the Day for the session of the House held on Monday of this week, August 18, and the bill went through a quick, ritualistic third reading on that day.
“Third reading” does not mean it was actually read aloud three times on the floor.  Rather, it refers to the step where a legislative body formally considers a measure for a third and final time in public session.  It is a step equivalent to passage: a bill’s third reading and its passage are accomplished in the same motion. 

To become law now, An Act Relative to Robotic Surgery needs only to be engrossed by the House -- a perfunctory step -- and signed by the governor.
SB2261 would set up a 17-member special commission to “investigate and review the use of robotic surgery,” develop a training protocol for each application of robotic surgery, devise an application and certification process for hospitals seeking to perform robotic surgery, and establish guidelines for the training and experience of surgeons who use robots.

Representatives of the Massachusetts Medical Society, the American Urological Society, the Society of Gynecological Surgeons, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, and the Massachusetts Hospital Association will be among those appointed to the commission.  Three state representatives and three state senators, including, presumably, Dick Moore, will also be put on it.
The robots now widely deployed in U.S. hospitals are operated by surgeons working at consoles.  The surgeon does the directing; the robot does the cutting.  In certain procedures, there are definite upsides to having a robot wield the scalpels and other surgical tools.  For example, they can use tinier instruments and work in tighter spaces than a surgeon’s hands can.  They also often accomplish the desired results with less extensive cutting.  Studies have indicated that many patients recover quicker from robotic surgery because of smaller incisions and fewer disturbances of internal organs and tissues.

Surgical robots, however, are expensive little devils. The initial outlay for what may be considered the top-of-line surgical robot can exceed $2.5 million; the per-procedure instrument costs often approach $2,000; and the annual service contracts run into the tens of thousands of dollars. 
Robotic surgery is also more costly than conventional surgery. As an example, prostate removal by robot will run about $4,500 higher than standard prostatectomy. 

That money is well spent, robotophiles say, because patients who have undergone a robotic procedure experience less post-surgical pain and discomfort, and are able to return to their normal routines sooner.
Perhaps the hardest knock on robotic surgery is that studies to date have not found it to be more effective than standard surgery.  If future studies corroborate that finding, it will mean we’re paying more for robotic surgery to get the same results as from standard surgery. 

Robots in the surgical suite have also been criticized for setting off a new kind of “medical arms race,” with hospitals having no choice but to acquire robots once their competitors have them.
Dr. Marty Makary, director of surgical quality at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, has decried the surgical robot as “a symbol of what’s wrong with American health care: the widespread adoption of expensive new technology with little evidence to support its use – all within the context of a poorly informed, even misinformed, public.”

On my clearest days, I’m barely one notch about “poorly informed, even misinformed” on this topic.
That’s why I’m glad Dick Moore, Beacon Hill’s most knowledgeable person on health care costs, has come up with this special commission idea.  If they get the right persons on it and if they do their jobs energetically, we’ll all become better informed.  And our health care system will end up spending our limited dollars more wisely.

THAT LAID-BACK TIME IN THE LEGISLATURE, POST-JULY 31:  We’re at a point in the 2013-14 legislative session when you might say that only “feel good” measures are on the agenda.  Back in 1995, the legislature adopted Rule 12A obligating itself to conclude “all formal business” no later than the last day of July in the second year of a session; after that, the House and Senate may meet informally.  Only a few legislators from each party show up for these meetings, and no debates are held.  The rules governing “informals” make it impossible to go beyond routine business or to vote on controversial matters.  If even one member present objects to taking a vote on something, that item must be tabled for that entire session.  As the minority party in the legislature, Republicans send at least one member to all informals to prevent Democrats from passing anything momentous or contentious.