David Seltz was named executive director of the new state Health Policy Commission Tuesday, charged with implementing much of the massive health care cost control bill signed by Governor Deval Patrick in August. Seltz, 31, has been a special advisor to Patrick on health cost containment since August and previously worked nine years in the Legislature.
He was a health care analyst for Senator Therese Murray when she was on the conference committee that wrote the final language of the 2006 health care law requiring most Massachusetts residents to have health insurance.
“That’s really where I learned health care the most, going through that process,” Seltz said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
That law expanded coverage to be nearly universal in Massachusetts and became a model for the national Affordable Care Act.
Seltz stayed with Murray, who had hired him shortly after he graduated in 2003 from Boston College, as she became Senate president. He helped in drafting the recent cost bill, which has again given Massachusetts first-in-the-nation status as it attempts to limit growth in health care spending in the state to about the rate of increase for the state’s overall economy.
“He really has learned a lot about the intricacies of our health system, because he sat right in the middle of all of this debate over his whole career,” said Stuart Altman, chairman of the Health Policy Commission board and professor of national health policy at Brandeis University.
The board voted unanimously to name Seltz as director.
“He’s a 24/7 sort of a guy,” Altman said. “And also he’s very smart. At the end, it was a no-brainer.”
Among his other qualifications, Seltz, who lives in Boston, is a bow tie aficionado and was recently named one of “Beacon Hill’s Most Beautiful” in the Phoenix, where he was praised for his “preppy politico” style.
Altman said Seltz also received strong endorsements from people in all parts of the health care market, including insurers, hospitals, and consumer groups.
“I felt we needed that, because we have to make some tough decisions going down the road,” he said.
Seltz said he had been somewhat reluctant about leaving Murray’s office in August, since she gave him his start in the State House, but he couldn’t turn down a job with the governor that would keep him working on the bill that he had spent years thinking about.
Seltz must hire staff and get to work quickly on some of the early provisions to be implemented under the law, including collecting a one-time fee from hospitals and health plans that have the strongest finances—money that will be used to help distressed hospitals.
The commission’s structure, as a board-directed agency independent from the state’s executive branch, is similar to that of the Massachusetts Health Connector, created under the 2006 law to expand coverage in the state and set up a virtual health insurance market for individuals and small businesses. But the task before the commission is much larger and, in many ways, harder to define.
Its chief responsibility is to monitor spending by hospitals and doctors and hold them accountable if they spend too much, while also tracking health care quality and parity for mental health services. Simple.