Bill includes Sen. Lesser amendments to study alternatives to addictive painkillers and improve access to family physicians
BOSTON — On Nov. 9, Senator Eric P. Lesser voted with the State Senate to pass a comprehensive health care reform bill that reduces costs in the system and ensures a number of consumer protections, including increased care options for a number of patients.
The HEALTH Act, which provides more funding for community hospitals and implements coverage for cost-saving innovations such as telemedicine, also includes amendments by Senator Lesser to improve access to care.
One amendment makes changes to a state grant program that funds the training of primary care providers to encourage more residency programs in underserved areas, particularly in Western Massachusetts. This will increase the number of family doctors practicing in those areas where there are not enough doctors to provide care to the number of patients.
A second amendment requires the state Center for Health Information and Analysis to study the costs of requiring insurance coverage for acupuncture services, which many medical professionals see as an alternative to prescribing addictive painkillers fueling the opioid epidemic.
“Massachusetts has always been a leader in delivering high-quality healthcare and expanding access to working class and low-income residents. This bill brings down costs in our healthcare system so we can continue to guarantee quality coverage to all of our residents. It also expands access to care by encouraging family doctors to practice in rural and underserved areas, particularly in Western Mass, and addresses the rising cost of prescription drugs,” said Sen. Lesser.
A third amendment proposed by Sen. Lesser and adopted in the final bill designates May 6 as Moyamoya Disease Awareness Day. Several of Senator Lesser’s constituents suffer from this rare condition which causes strokes in children and young adults.
“By raising awareness we can begin building programming and advocacy around treatment solutions to help more sufferers of this rare disease — including several in our own community — receive treatment,” said Sen. Lesser.
The bill puts an increased focus on transition planning for patients to reduce repeat hospital and emergency room visits, a major cost driver for MassHealth.
The bill also addresses the rising costs of prescription drugs by implementing greater oversight and transparency in drug costs. It encourages Massachusetts to enter into bulk purchasing arrangements, including a multi-state drug purchasing consortium like other states, to lower costs and protect consumers.
Bulk purchasing arrangements have proven successful in the state before, including the program that enabled the state to buy doses of Narcan, an opioid overdose-reversal drug, at a reduced price. First responders across the state are now equipped with Narcan.
Sen. Lesser previously introduced a bill to replicate this success by implementing a bulk purchase program for EpiPens. That bill was signed into law as part of the state budget by Governor Charlie Baker in July.
The HEALTH Act is the result of the Special Senate Committee on Health Care Cost Containment and Reform, led by Senator James T. Welch, which analyzed the best practices in other states and engaged stakeholders in a series of meetings over the last year.
“Passing The HEALTH Act is a phenomenal step forward for health care in the Commonwealth,” said Sen. Welch. “Once again, we are setting an example for the nation by creating a health care system that will, among many things, maximize the impact community hospitals can have on our citizens, while keeping costs in check.”
The bill now heads to the State House of Representatives for consideration.