FRAMINGHAM - Joe Avellone wants to be the governor who finally closes the state's student achievement gap, overhauls its health care system, and tackles its drug addiction problem.
And he plans to do it all without a broad-base tax increase, the Democrat said in an editorial board meeting with the Daily News on Thursday. The key is changing the way the state delivers medical care.
"We have an enormously inefficient health care system. We know it's the biggest budget buster in all of our cities and towns," said Avellone, a former surgeon and currently a health care executive from Wellesley. He said his plan to implement a new results-oriented, cost-effective approach will free up the money needed to fund his vision for the state.
One of five Democratic candidates vying to succeed Gov. Deval Patrick, Avellone believes he ultimately has the best chance out of all of them to go toe to toe with likely Republican challenger Charlie Baker.
"I believe I'm the right person with the right background for the times," he said. "I've spent 30 years creating jobs."
The former chief operating officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, who is now the corporate senior vice president of bio-pharmaceutical research firm Parexel International, promises "practical" leadership, citing his experience as someone "who's managed large organizations and lived with results."
On education, his top priority, Avellone wants to focus on improving the state's worst performing schools by creating a special fund that will help them run prekindergarten programs, lengthen their school day and create other extra support services aimed at improving students' scores. He also intends to start a grant program that will provide additional money to address language needs, nutrition, and other issues affecting those specific populations.
In addition, he advocates for a public higher education system that is more proactive on filling the needs of the workforce, and said he intends "to go the next step" to centralize the state's community colleges after Patrick scaled down a plan to do so a couple years ago.
Another topic Avellone said he has concentrated more on during his campaign is drug addiction, which he seeks to move out of the realm of criminal justice and into health care, "because it is a health care issue." His plan includes creating a new "office of recovery" under the governor that will push for more detox programs, rehabilitation facilities, and other services aimed at helping drug addicts fully recover and stay out of the state's courts and prisons. He also wants to form a coalition with other New England states that will press the Food and Drug Administration to do more to ensure companies are making safer drugs, which are less likely to be abused.
The most ambitious part of his platform, however, is a proposal to fix the state's health care system, which he says is wasting billions of dollars every year and does not provide the right incentives for care providers. His plan is to drop the current pay-for-service model and instead adopt a holistic, "coordinated care" approach that will have doctors working in teams and earning bonuses based on the outcomes of their patients.
"We have elements of it in our system now," he said, but the next challenge is expanding it across Massachusetts. "That's going to take leadership in the governor's office."
The payoff, he said, would be reducing the huge financial burden of paying for health care, which he estimated accounts for nearly 40 percent of the state's budget. After Massachusetts led the rest of the nation on universal health care insurance eight years ago, he said, making it affordable "will be our challenge the rest of the decade."
Other positions Avellone shared in the editorial board meeting were:
- Leaving the state's casino plan as is, saying "it's working";
- Support for medical marijuana, but not as a "backdoor approach" to legalize recreational use;
- And a desire to create a youth violence prevention policy that would replace some of the community policing, summer programs, gang-diversion efforts, and other initiatives that have been "whittled back" in the state's budget over the past few decades.
Scott O'Connell can be reached at 508-626-4449 or Follow him on Twitter: @ScottOConnellMW