BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker is wading into the debate over health care costs during his final months in office with a new plan seeking to reduce prescription drug prices, expand behavioral health services and require providers and insurers to put more money and resources into primary and geriatric care.

A key provision of the proposal, which Baker detailed Tuesday, would require providers and insurers to increase spending on behavioral health and primary care services by 30% over three years.

The plan, which requires legislative approval, also seeks to improve access to behavioral health services resources to deal with an avalanche of mental health issues stemming from the pandemic.

“The pandemic has only underscored the need to treat behavioral health care services the same way we treat other health care services,” Baker said during a live-streamed briefing on the proposal.

Baker is a former health care executive credited with turning around Harvard Pilgrim Health Care during his tenure at the company, prior to being elected governor. He filed a similar health care cost containment proposal in late-2019 but the measure was sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic and wasn’t taken up by lawmakers before the end of the previous two-year legislative session.

Some of the provisions of that legislation — such as an expansion of telehealth services — were implemented through emergency orders and legislation approved during the pandemic.

“There’s still more work to do to improve our health care system so that it better serves our families and our communities,” Baker said Tuesday.

Legislative leaders are also taking steps aimed at reducing health care and rising prescription drug costs they say are putting the squeeze on many elderly and low-income residents.

Last month, the state Senate approved a plan that calls for capping costs for insulin medication and requires drug companies to notify the state when a new, more expensive drug comes on the market.

The proposal would make pharmacy benefit managers — who act as a middleman between health plans, drug companies and suppliers — subject to state oversight.

In November, the Senate approved a mental health access bill that calls for setting a floor for the rates insurers must pay for behavioral health services and require them to cover same-day psychiatric services.

Meanwhile, the House previously approved plans aimed at protecting safety-net hospitals in providing more scrutiny of spending by hospitals.

Baker’s proposal is being filed late in the legislative session. Even if legislative leaders decide to take up the bill, it would still need to go through committee hearings where lawmakers are likely to make changes to it.

Massachusetts has some of the highest health care costs in the country, which have been increasing in recent years despite efforts to contain them. But the state reported a drop in spending on health care during the pandemic when hospitals diverted people to deal with a tidal wave of COVID-19 patients.

Overall, spending on health care declined by 2.4% in the state in 2020, which was attributed to less people seeking care during the pandemic, according to a report released Monday by the state Center for Health Information and Analysis.

Total spending on health care last year was estimated at $62.6 billion — roughly $8,912 per resident — a drop of $400 million compared to 2019 estimates.

Amy Rosenthal, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Health Care for All, welcomed Baker’s new proposal and said it “makes important steps to remove barriers to care” that have been highlighted by the pandemic.

Rosenthal said the public health crisis over the past two years “has highlighted the urgent need to make health care premiums more affordable, address behavioral health care and bring down high prescription drug prices.”

“People are struggling. They are making difficult choices to access and afford the treatments they need,” she added. “We can no longer wait to take action.”

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at

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