April 2018

April 20, 2018

In April, advocates across the country mark Medicaid Awareness Month and celebrate the program that provides health coverage to millions, including eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with disabilities.

Here in the Bay State, approximately 1.8 million people depend on MassHealth – the Commonwealth’s combined Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – to access the health care they need. From birth and well-child visits to annual physicals, substance use disorder treatment and long-term care, Medicaid is a lifeline across the lifespan.

In Massachusetts, adults up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line are now eligible to enroll in Medicaid, and 40 percent of children rely on MassHealth for coverage. Nationally, Medicaid pays almost $4 billion annually in school-based health services. Schools depend on these funds to connect students with vital health resources – 68 percent of school superintendents said that they utilized these funds to keep nurses, counselors, and speech therapists on staff.

Medicaid supports 61 percent of the Bay Staters who live in nursing homes and 33 percent of Massachusetts seniors and people with disabilities have health coverage through Medicaid. Medicaid helps many seniors pay for long-term care and support at home that allows them to continue living in their communities.

Medicaid coverage is at the forefront of the national effort to fight the opioid crisis. Nationally, Medicaid covers one in four Americans with an opioid use disorder. Here in Massachusetts, Medicaid pays for 49% of the Commonwealth’s buprenorphine expenditure, a medication used to treat opioid addiction.

For more on the many ways that Medicaid supports the health of vulnerable populations, please visit Community Catalyst’s blog:

The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation’s recent report MassHealth: The Basics provides an in-depth look at Massachusetts’ combined Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

During this Medicaid Awareness Month, all of us at Health Care For All re-commit ourselves to the urgent work of protecting Medicaid against ongoing threats and to raising awareness of the integral role this program plays in creating a future in which health care access is a reality for all.

-Natalie Litton

April 20, 2018

On April 23, the Massachusetts House of Representatives will begin voting on the state’s budget for fiscal year 2019, which begins on July 1 of this year. Representatives will consider 1400 amendment proposed by Representatives, including a number of important health-care related amendments.

HCFA is supporting a number of amendments that will improve access to affordable and quality health care coverage; there are also some proposed amendments we oppose that would move us backwards.

With debate in the House starting, it is crucial that your Representative knows how constituents feel about these critical health care related amendments. To find your State Representative’s contact information, click here.  A summary of these key amendments is below:

[For full explanations of each amendment, see our complete budget amendment fact sheet here]

HCFA Supports:

Health Insurance:

Amendment #1268 (Insurance Provider Directories): Sponsored by Rep. Barber, establishes comprehensive requirements on health plans to make accurate provider directories available to the public.

Oral Health:

Amendment #580 (Periodontal Coverage Restoration): Sponsored by Rep. Scibak, adds language and $12 million (over half federally reimbursed) to MassHealth to reinstate coverage for periodontal services for adult MassHealth enrollees.

Amendment #976 (DPH Office of Oral Health): Sponsored by Rep. Hogan, is a no-cost amendment that removes an earmark to free up sufficient funding for the operation of DPH’s Office of Oral Health.

Amendment #812 (Dental Program for Children): Sponsored by Rep. Cahill, funds the Forsyth Kids program at $300,000, level-funded from FY2018.

Prescription Drugs:

Amendment #557 (Academic Detailing Initiative): Sponsored by Rep. Benson, adds language and $500,000 to fund a physician education program on cost-effective ways to manage pain without opioids, administered by the Health Policy Commission.

Amendment #1285 (Ban Drug Company Marketing “Coupons”): Sponsored by Rep. Barber, reinstates the state’s prohibition on drug industry marketing “coupons” by 2019.

Amendment #620 (MassHealth Drug Cost Control and Transparency): Sponsored by Rep. Jones, authorizes MassHealth to negotiate cost-effective drug prices, and receive pricing information if no agreement can be reached.

Children’s Health:

Amendment #247 (Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health): Sponsored by Rep. Balser, would provide $125,000 to support collaboration activities of the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Early Education and Care.

Amendment #473 (Mental Health Advocacy Program for Kids): Sponsored by Rep. Golden, would provide $200,000 to maintain MHAP for Kids.

Amendment #1172 (Expansion of Return to School “Bridge” Programs): Sponsored by Rep. Campbell, would provide $250,000 to expand these bridge programs.

Amendment #198 (Protecting Medically Complex and Fragile Children): Sponsored by Rep. Dwyer, would provide an additional $16 million investment in the Continuous Skilled Nursing Program.

HCFA Opposes:

Amendments #116 and #339 (MassHealth Control Board): Sponsored by Reps. Lombardo and Lyons, set up a MassHealth Control Board with broad authority to make changes to the MassHealth program, with no legislative oversight.

Amendment #337 (Harmful MassHealth Proposal): Sponsored by Rep. Lyons, requires that MassHealth spending not exceed 30% of the total state budget. This would force massive cuts in MassHealth.

April 19, 2018
On Saturday, April 14th, in what seemed to be a precursor to the Boston Marathon, members of the Immigrant Healthcare Access Coalition (IHAC) steering committee completed their own long distance event – they ran the 2018 Democracy School: Building Health Care Power in Immigrant Communities. This training was part of a coordinated, on-going effort to inform immigrants and the groups that serve them about their health care rights. The training also aimed to dispel the growing fear and mistrust within immigrant communities that is preventing many individuals and families from seeking the health care services they need - when they need them. 

A panoramic look at the 2018 Democracy School in action!

Staff members from Health Care For All (HCFA), Health Law Advocates (HLA), and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) spent six months meeting one-on-one with individuals and organizations in the Greater Boston area to discuss the challenges to health care access that are facing immigrant communities and to anticipate  additional challenges coming in the near future.


(L-R) Sally Strniste, HCFA’s Chief of Staff, and Maria R. Gonzalez Albuixech smiling for the start of the training!

Robust recruitment efforts led to the participation of more than 65 health care providers, community based organizations, and individual consumers. Having had a goal of 15-20 attendees, the event’s organizers were thrilled that so many committed advocates and volunteers came together to learn about the immigration rules and regulations that are critical to health care access for the communities they serve.  High turnout at the training confirmed that there is a need for clear information and individual outreach within local communities that are made up of or serve large numbers of immigrants and their families.

By the time April 14th showed up on the calendar, everyone who helped plan the “Democracy School: Building Health Care Power in Immigrant Communities” was eager to implement the training that took place at “La Alianza Hispana” located on Massachusetts Avenue.


(L-R) Suzanne Curry, Hannah Frigand, and Yaquelin Cordon, HCFA staff members and event volunteers, getting ready to receive the participants.

Maria R. González Albuixech, HCFA’s Director of Strategy and Communications, and Deolinda Daveiga, HCFA’s Outreach and IHAP Coordinator, opened the training in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  Language capacity is a critical piece of the training and the project and all resources were made available in three languages so that attendees could benefit as much as possible from the presentations by following along in the language that was most comfortable for them.


Maria R. González Albuixech and Deolinda Daveiga, both of HCFA, deliver the opening remarks to a packed room

The programming for the rest of the training included a number of presentations from project partners. Liza Ryan, of MIRA, gave a brief overview of changing immigration policy at the federal level. She emphasized the importance of being knowledgeable but also calm during these tense times.


Liza Ryan, of MIRA, delivers the first PowerPoint presentation of the day about federal immigration changes

Following this federal update, Andrew Cohen, the chair of the Immigrant Health Care Access Coalition (IHAC) and an attorney at HLA, focused his presentation on the specific health care protections that immigrants, both documented and undocumented, have under the law. Despite the shifting political landscape, Andrew’s powerful presentation described the changes that are on the horizon and laws that will remain intact in the immediate future.

April 12, 2018

Last week Health Care For All (HCFA) celebrated a tremendous victory along with the many organizations that make up the Protecting Access to Confidential Healthcare (PATCH) Alliance when Governor Baker signed into law the PATCH Act, which advances patient confidentiality protections.

Alyssa Vangeli, HCFA’s Associate Director of Policy and Government Relations, has been leading the PATCH Alliance since its inception close to four years ago. The PATCH Alliance, a group composed of 40+ provider, advocacy and community based organizations, organized support for the bill along with the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
 

Alyssa Vangeli, left, and Amy Rosenthal, HCFA's Executive Director, right, wait for the PATCH Act signing ceremony to begin. 
 

The PATCH Act (An Act To Protect Access to Confidential Healthcare, S. 2296) ensures that when multiple people are on the same insurance plan, confidential health care information is not shared with anyone other than the patient. Health plans typically send a Summary of Payments (SOP) form detailing the type and cost of medical services received to the primary policyholder each time an enrollee on the plan accesses care. The SOP form is meant to explain how and when an insurance plan is being used and is not a medical bill. In some instances, the SOP form may contain information on sensitive health care services and can unintentionally compromise patient confidentiality for anyone enrolled as a dependent on another person’s health insurance policy, such as a young adult or spouse.

The PATCH Act closes this privacy loophole and  gives patients the option to receive SOP forms directly or online after receiving sensitive heath services, rather than have these SOP forms go to the health plan policyholder. The bill also allows patients to opt-out of receiving SOPs if no payment is due. By ensuring that sensitive health care information remains confidential, patients will not have to risk delaying or forgoing needed care, or in extreme cases, risk being traumatized, stigmatized or harmed for accessing services, out of fear that their confidential health care information will be shared.
 

The PATCH Act waiting to be signed by Governor Baker before the start of the event.

A number of PATCH Alliance member organizations were given the opportunity to stand with Governor Baker for the ceremonial signing of this critical bill on April 2, 2018.

Governor Baker signs the PATCH Act into law.

Alyssa was then given the opportunity to say a few words and thanked the lead sponsors of the bill, Representative Hogan and Senator Spilka, for their incredible leadership and perseverance to make this bill a reality. She also spoke to the strength of the diversity and breadth of PATCH Alliance members, which include provider and advocacy organizations focused on care related to domestic violence, sexual assault, mental health, substance use disorders, sexual and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ health, among other potentially sensitive services. 

Alyssa Vangeli, HCFA's Associate Director of Policy and Government Relations, speaks during the signing ceremony.
 

The signing ceremony capped years of hard work and careful negotiations among legislators and interested groups. Most of the provisions of the bill will take effect later this summer, with one delayed until next year. HCFA will closely monitor the implementation of the law to make sure that its provisions are being applied by all insurers.

Passage of the PATCH Act demonstrates the power of HCFA and our partners to effect change by listening to people raising on-the-ground problems, building broad coalitions, and working through the political process.

Members of the PATCH Alliance take a final photo with Governor Baker at the conclusion of the signing ceremony.

 

-Davis Jackson and Alyssa Vangeli