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A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care – wonky with a dose of reality

June 12, 2017

Vox just published an article reporting that the U.S. Senate is getting close to enough votes to repeal the ACA, and pass a health care plan that would be devastating for Massachusetts and the rest of the country.

 

Behind closed doors, Senate Republicans have worked out a path toward Obamacare repeal. The plans under discussion would end Medicaid expansion, causing millions of low-income Americans to lose health coverage. They may allow health insurance plans to charge higher premiums to people with preexisting conditions, too.

 

In other words: The emerging bill looks a whole lot like the unpopular bill the House passed last month. It creates the same group of winners (high-income, healthier people) and the same group of losers (low-income, sicker people).

 

Read the rest of the article here.

 

This is the time to double down our efforts to stop this damaging bill from moving any further. In Massachusetts, 1.9 million people rely on MassHealth, our Medicaid program. Half of all people with disabilities, 40% of all children, two-thirds of people in low-income families, and over 60% of residents in nursing homes rely on MassHealth for their care.

 

Both MA Senators, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, are on the right side of the issue, but you can reach out to your relatives and acquaintances in other states, asking them to call their Senators to show their opposition to this bill.

 

Here is how:

 

Join our Friends and Family campaign!

 

June 9, 2017

Anh Vu Sawyer, Executive Director of the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts and Health Care For All's supporter authored an op-ed that was published today on the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. In this piece, she shares her struggle to access dental care and her take on why oral health integration is crucial to improve access to preventive care especially for the immigrant community in the state.

As I See It: Flying to Asia to see a dentist?

As a director for the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts, I am quite concerned about the health care disparities my constituents have been struggling with due to their cultural and language barriers. However, a recent tooth ache that almost landed me in the ER gave me an insight into one simple step that may improve people’s overall health and make healthcare accessible and effective for many, especially the Limited English Proficient populations.

In January, right before my first vacation in four years, I ended up having to get an emergency medical appointment because of a high fever. I found out that this was due to the fact that a couple of years before, two of my teeth broke. Because there was no pain at that time, it wasn’t a big deal, so I didn’t do anything about it. But less than 24 hours before my trip to Europe, one of my broken teeth became infected and I was asked to cancel my trip. “No, my husband and I have to take this trip. Many events and appointments will be cancelled if we cancel.” That’s what I told the dentist who finally gave me very strong antibiotics so that the infection didn’t spread while on vacation. But he only did that with my solemn cross-my-heart promise that I would take care of the problem immediately once I was back in the U.S.

The antibiotic had unpleasant side effects and helped me to promptly keep my promise. I went to the dentist and was told I needed two root canals among other treatments and that would cost me around $5,000. I had dental insurance, but it would only cover 10 percent of the cost. I understood then that my dental insurance wasn’t really insurance; it worked more like a discount card. This preventable infection had been not only painful for my mouth, but also for my pocket, and almost ruined my sanity (I very much needed a vacation).

I was born and raised in Vietnam but I have been in this country for over 40 years. I am an educated and accomplished woman. I lead a wonderful community-based organization in Worcester that handles almost 10,000 visits a year and helps hundreds of refugees, immigrants and low-income residents to rebuild their lives and strengthen their communities. And I am a US citizen. What a gift! I might be Americanized in many ways. But not in every way. In my culture, at least where I grew up, oral health is not a priority and you don’t go to see a dental professional unless you really have to (i.e. life or death). For many years, because of my busy schedule, being frugal, and the lack of understanding the importance of healthy teeth, I didn’t visit a dentist. And for many years, I didn’t get a regular cleaning or a checkup - “It’s OK, because I brush and floss my teeth daily,” I reasoned with myself. I had to learn my mistake the hard way.

Many of us in the immigrant community experience language, cultural and financial barriers accessing this type of preventive care. Many of my fellow immigrants forego oral health care altogether. Some go as far as traveling to their home countries to get any dental procedure because it is cheaper to travel overseas and see a dentist than crossing the street to the dental office in their neighborhood. In one of our surveys, quite a few folks mentioned the money they saved from not seeing an American dentist covered the round trip airfares that they happily used to visit families. This doesn’t make any sense.

Read the whole article here

June 1, 2017

Andrew Dreyfus, the President and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, just published an op-ed in The Hill, a key source of news for Capitol Hill and people following federal legislation. Dreyfus argues strongly that the Senate should reject the provision in the House-passed ACA repeal bill that penalizes people with pre-existing conditions. While economics is an important consideration, he roots his arguments in the core American values of fairness and equality. This adds a new, and important dimension to the debate in Washington:

Our nation is already struggling with enough division — economic, racial, geographic, and political. It would be both tragic and unnecessary to create a new divide between those who are seriously ill and those who are healthy. Rather than trying to fix the pre-existing condition provisions in the House bill, the Senate should take them off the table, permanently. ...

Since 2010, the ACA has guaranteed that individuals with pre-existing conditions are eligible for the same coverage as everyone else, at the same cost. My state, Massachusetts, is one of seven that had pre-existing condition protections in place even before the ACA became law. It’s arguably one of the ACA’s most popular provisions, and it has maintained broad, bipartisan support. Unfortunately, a last-minute addition to the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) reopens the issue by giving states the option of once again allowing insurers to charge higher premiums for individuals with pre-existing medical conditions. The CBO found that, in states choosing this option, “less healthy people would face extremely high premiums.” The Senate should settle the matter by rejecting this provision as unnecessary and divisive.  ...

A return to charging higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions would also reinforce the mistaken notion that serious illness stems largely from personal choice. Most illness and disability is due not to choice but to bad luck and bad circumstances — the accidents of birth and life, including genes, economic and social factors, workplace conditions, and exposure to infection and toxins. 

Dreyfus also critiques other parts of the proposal, including the deep cuts to Medicaid (our MassHealth program), and the reductions in assistance for people buying coverage through health insurance marketplaces like our Health Connector.

But he concludes that our national comittment to impartiality and equal opportunity should guide our policy:

The net effect of these provisions would be to make health insurance unaffordable for many of the older and poorer Americans who are currently insured under the ACA. Bipartisan solutions to these problems should be within reach and may emerge in the Senate. But before we tackle these problems, we should agree that, whether we are healthy or sick, we are all created equal, and our health insurance system should reflect this American principle.  

We appreciate's his forthright voice in support of fair health policy, that provides not just the healthy and well-off, but to everyone in need.

                                                                                                                                                             Brian Rosman

May 31, 2017

During the Senate budget debate last week, the Senate approved an amendment that extended the Prevention & Wellness Trust Fund (PWTF).  HCFA strongly supports the PWTF, and we are working closely with the lead advocacy organization, the Massachusetts Public Health Association (MPHA), to make sure the provision is part of the final budget. 

 

The Prevention & Wellness Trust Fund is a first-in-the-nation effort that supports evidence-based community interventions that keep Massachusetts residents healthy, avoid preventable health care costs, and reduce health disparities. PWTF supports community-based partnerships including municipalities, healthcare systems, businesses, regional planning organizations, and schools. These partnerships have had success in reducing rates of the most prevalent and preventable health conditions, increasing healthy behaviors, and supporting the adoption of workplace-based wellness or health management programs. Funding for the program ends this July, if it is not extended by the legislature.

 

The amendment will increase taxes on flavored cigars, equalizing the tax to other tobacco products. This not only helps to indefinitely fund PWTF community programs, but also works as a prevention strategy, decreasing consumption of flavored cigars, which are often marketed to youth.
 
The House did not include a similar provision in its budget version. The final budget will be worked out in the next few weeks by a 6-member conference committee, and we do not expect a smooth ride.
 
We ask that you join MPHA and HCFA at the State House on June 6th at 10:30am to show our support to the entire legislature – and especially the members of the conference committee. Please make every effort to attend and please help us spread the word! Please invite your colleagues, patients, partners, and friends to join us! HCFA will also be testifying in support of the bill that afternoon.

 

                                                                                                                                              Nina Rossiter

May 23, 2017

This is devastating: A new study estimates that the House-passed bill to repeal the ACA would result in as many as 445,000 people in Massachusetts losing health care coverage. The uninsurance rate, now around 2.8%, would soar to 10.3%. To keep these people covered would the cost state $7.8 billion between 2017 and 2026.

The study comes from the Urban Institute, and was commissioned by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, which is the co-convenor, along with HCFA, of the state's Coalition for Coverage and Care. You can read the press summary here, and get the full package of materials here.

Here's what HCFA interim executive director, Stephen Rosenfeld, said about the report:

“The study’s results detail a very bleak set of outcomes, all of which have serious repercussions. We can calculate the impact in terms of dollars and statistics. However, behind each number there is a story of a neighbor or a family who will struggle to access the care they need.”

We object. The bill has passed the House, but can be stopped in the U.S. Senate. Join us in our campaign to get the word out to friends and family in states with key swing Senators. We must preserve the health coverage under the ACA.

 

 

May 19, 2017

(Photo Credit: Alastair Pike, Office of Governor Charlie Baker)

Governor Charlie Baker sent a strong letter to U.S. Senate leaders today, calling on them to reject the House-passed American Health Care Act, and defending Massachusetts' progress on health coverage made possible by the ACA - or Obamacare.

The letter (read it here) urges the Senate to scrap the massive Medicaid cuts that are the centerpiece of the House bill, and warns that thousands will lose coverage in Massachusetts if it became law. Massachusetts would lose over a billion dollars in federal funding starting in 2020, with losses increasing in following years. He writes, "The recently passed American Health Care Act by the House of Representatives poses a significant threat to Massachusetts, from both fiscal and health care coverage perspectives. ... I urge the Senate not to pass any bill that threatens the loss of existing health care coverage or makes it more unaffordable for Americans."

Governor Baker puts the health coverage expansions pioneered by our state in a broader perspective:

…our state believes strongly in health care coverage. Coverage provides a foundation to tackle underlying complex health care issues such as: affordability; skyrocketing drug costs; the opioid epidemic; historic segregation of behavioral and physical health care; and health disparities.

Among the recommendations Governor Baker made to the Senate were these points:

Medicaid

  • Keep the ACA Medicaid expansion, which covers some 300,000 low-income adults in Massachusetts
  • Oppose the per-capita cap funding formula in the House bill, which would require massive cuts to our MassHealth program
  • Maintain state flexibility for Medicaid "Section 1115" waivers. Massachusetts just began implementing its innovative waiver program which allows for MassHealth ACOs that include a focus on social determinants of health
     

Employers

  • Allow state employer mandates. HCFA supports the legislature's proposal on this, now moving as part of the state's budget process

Insurance

  • Premiums assistance should be based on income, not age. The AHCA transforms the ACA's sliding scale assistance based on income to an age-based formula that ignores the affordability of plans.
  • The legislation should also address soaring drug costs

The Governor also states that, “Finally, Massachusetts has gone on record as opposed to federal sanctions regarding family planning and efforts to diminish support for behavioral health and the opioid epidemic.”

Health Care For All strongly applauds the Governor for taking a strong stand in support of effective health reform.

 

May 16, 2017

This blog was originally published on Community Catalyst’s blog Health Policy Hub

The rise in opioid misuse has continued to receive attention across the country, and only more urgently in recent months as Republicans continue to press forward toward a repeal of the ACA with a disastrous replacement bill that makes deep cuts to the Medicaid program and would reduce or eliminate care for many people with substance use disorders. Often, the majority of this attention is on adults, who are the primary users of opioids. Less attention has been directed toward infants exposed to substances during pregnancy and who, as a result, may be born with an opioid use disorder. This condition in newborns is termed neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). 

Opioid misuse is a multi-generational issue that requires supports along the lifespan. Massachusetts is disproportionately affected, placing it second in the nation for prenatal exposure (13.7 per 1,000) after the East/South Central region of the U.S. Nationally, the rate is about five babies out of every 1,000 births. The average duration of inpatient treatment for NAS is 19 days with an average cost of $30,000, placing severe strain on health systems to support affected infants and their families. Through this lens, the Massachusetts Interagency Task Force on Newborns with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome published a highly anticipated report that provides key recommendations about how to address the current gaps in care and more deliberately address the needs of infants and parents through collaboration and coordination across health and human services.

It is worth noting that this Task Force is the product of robust advocacy by a Community Catalyst-led workgroup on NAS that included a broad array of members ranging from early intervention providers, legal advocates, child welfare advocates and children’s mental health advocates to physicians –pediatricians, obstetricians/gynecologists and medical residents. The lead children’s health advocacy partner, Children’s Health Access Coalition (CHAC), helped develop and champion legislative language in the last hours of the state’s budget deliberations in 2016 to include the revenue-neutral task force.

May 16, 2017

We hear over and over again criticism that MassHealth comprises 40% of the state budget. This ignores two key realities:

1. MassHealth provides critical health care to over a quarter of state’s population – very low income people with no other source of health care. The majority of expenses are to provide care to very sick people, particularly seniors and people with disabilities getting long-term care and support services. Seniors and people with disabilities account for 24% of the enrollees, but 56% of the spending. The 595,000 non-disabled children are just 16% of the spending (source).

2. A new report from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center makes clear that, because of federal funding, the cost to state taxpayers is much less than is portrayed. The 40% number bandied about (it’s actually 37%) is the total cost of the program, including federal funds, compared to the entire state budget. But if one just looks only at state taxpayer funds, the cost of MassHealth is just 24% of the state's tax revenue  - certainly a bargain. Moreover, the federal funds we get as a result are spent in the local economy, paying salaries for medical care provided by community health centers, nurses, lab technicians, and many more. Those wages are then used to pay for food, rent, entertainment and other local services, fueling the economy even further.

These graphs, from the MassBudget report, illustrate this conclusion:

State Net cost of MassHealth

Please feel free to share this message to everyone concerned about the state budget. With Congress considering deep cuts in federal Medicaid funding, which would have a devastating impact on the state budget, we need to come together to defend Medicaid at the state and federal levels.

                                                                                                                                       -- Brian Rosman

 

May 4, 2017

The US House of Representatives just voted in favor of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The American Health Care Act will make massive cuts to Medicaid and rip up the insurance protections in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) - but we're not giving up. Now the bill moves to the Senate, where we can still win this fight. 

All Senators, regardless of their public position on AHCA, need to hear from their constituents now.

In Massachusetts, we are fortunate that our Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren are firmly opposing this effort, but we can still play an important role in stopping this madness.

We are asking residents in the Commonwealth to reach out to friends and family in other states and tell them to call their Senators.

Numerous senators have expressed reservations about the legislation - they need to hear from their constituents that this bill is bad for consumers. Our calls, emails and rallies make a difference and remain critical. You can use Community Catalyst’s Take Action Page to find the phone number for your Senators.

Talking Points for Senate:

The American Health Care Act is terrible for consumers – especially for kids, older adults, people with disabilities and low- and middle-income families. It would strip coverage from 24 million people and raise costs for millions more, and impose $839 billion in Medicaid cuts. The Senate should reject this bill and any bill that cuts coverage and raises costs.

The AHCA would:

  • Take us back to the dark days when people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes and cancer couldn’t get health insurance. The plan would allow insurers to charge more to people who are sick, leading to premium increases upwards of tens of thousands of dollars for coverage that is unlikely to meet their health care needs.

  • Allow states to get rid of the essential health benefits, which would roll back the clock to the days of skimpy plans without coverage for maternity care, substance use disorders or mental health services. This means, for example, that women would have to pay more for coverage that actually meets their health care needs.  

  • End the Medicaid expansion and slash $839 billion from Medicaid, jeopardizing care for millions of low-income seniors, people living with disabilities, children and low-income parents.

  • Hit older Americans with an age tax that would force them to pay thousands of dollars more for the health care they need.

  • Be especially bad for kids. The Medicaid block grant option would reverse a long- standing commitment to protect low-income children – it would impose $839 billion in Medicaid cuts that would put pressure on states cut benefits, roll back eligibility and deny children comprehensive preventive care needed to stay healthy.

  • Undermine efforts to address our state’s crisis of drug overdose deaths.

  • Weaken the ACA’s protections against catastrophic costs for people with employer-sponsored coverage.

  • Mean fewer people covered, weaker protections and higher costs for consumers – all to give a tax break to millionaires and corporations. This is not what your constituents want.

(Thank you Community Catalyst for your leadership!)

April 27, 2017
 
The American Health Care Act (AHCA) was first introduced by House Speaker Paul Ryan on March 20th, 2017. The latest proposal keeps all of the bad features of AHCA, such as the $880 billion cuts to Medicaid and plans to strip more than 20 million people of their health insurance. Added to that it would allow states to gut the main consumer protections of the ACA and return to a time when insurers could discriminate against those living with preexisting conditions – charging them higher premiums and selling them plans that don’t meet their health needs by limiting benefits and increasing out-of-pocket costs.
 

Even though Congress is trying to avert a government shutdown, the health care debate remains critically important as Speaker Ryan roams the halls looking for votes in support of his bad bill.

We have a real chance to stop this. 
 
In Massachusetts, our congressional delegation has already committed to defend our gains in health care, but we can still make a difference in this battle. 
 
We're asking everyone to please contact your friends and family who live in states with Republican US representatives. You need to ask them to get in touch with their members of Congress to ensure that they don't support this dangerous bill!
 

 

Tell them how health reform has been a success, and direct them to http://bit.ly/CallCongressCC

Thank you to our partner organization Community Catalyst for the information, resources, and leadership they provide in this fight. 

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