BOSTON (CBS) - By now you've surely seen the dueling TV ads on ballot question 1 in Massachusetts, the proposal to limit the number of patients that can be assigned to a nurse.
"Patient limits mean more time with your nurse," says a nurse in one of the Yes on One ads, which emphasize the promise of better care.
"At the end of the day if this ballot question passes, patients would be put at risk," warns the No on One campaign, which stresses the negative effects of costly over-regulation of hospitals.
On Wednesday, the state's Health Care Policy Commission released its own study siding with the industry's forecast of massive new costs imposed by passage of the question, up to $900 million a year on a system already struggling with cost control.
Outside the meeting room after the release, union leader Julie Pinkham of the Massachusetts Nurses Association angrily denounced the study, charging the commission with over-reliance on industry data, and accusing them of failing to address a "growing patient safety crisis.... If I have four patients and you put on your call button, I can get to you," she said. "If I have eight you wait. What happens when you wait? Sometimes something bad happens."
But John Nash, CEO of Franciscan Children's Hospital, a small, non-profit post-acute-care facility in Brighton, says "I'm not so sure the nurse's union considered Franciscan Children's when they put this on the ballot. What we would have to do in order to comply with the regulation is to cut back about one-third of our beds, which would mean for us a $2.5 million revenue loss on our bottom line, and we're a break-even charitable organization."
Insists Pinkham: "The one thing that this does different is it really for the first time gives a vote to people and puts them in control of health care."
Both sides have featured nurses in their ads, adding to voter confusion over this complicated question and highlighting the fact that less than a quarter of nurses in the state belong to the union promoting a yes vote.
Whatever the outcome, question 1 may be remembered, as an example of how ballot questions can sometimes be blunt, unwieldy instruments for change.
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