A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

House Budget - Amendments Strengthen Health Programs

House Budget - Amendments Strengthen Health Programs

May 1, 2009

The House started the week with a budget with appropriations at $27.44 billion, with $19.53 billion from taxes. On Monday, the House voted to increase the sales tax from 5% to 6.25%, bringing in an additional $900 million. They voted to allocate $205 million of those additional funds towards local aid. The left over amount has been used throughout the week for consolidated line item amendments. HCFA’s coalitions continued to advocate for vital state funded programs. The week had both good and bad news.

On Tuesday, the House recognized the importance of children’s mental health by restoring funding to several key line items. $3.4 million was put back in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services line item, (5042-5000), $25 million was allocated to the Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative (Rosie D.), and the line item for Early Education Mental Health Services (3000-6075) was restored with $1 million.

Of the Children’s Health Access Coalition (CHAC) priorities, $4 million was added to the Healthy Start account, which will allow thousands of pregnant women to receive health services that reduce infant mortality and low birth weights. In addition, the House restored more than $6 million for Early Intervention, a program that provides services to more than 30,000 infants and toddlers with developmental delays each year. However, even with this additional funding, the amount appropriated will likely force the State to make programmatic cuts or restrict eligibility.

The Disparities Action Network (DAN) is pleased with the inclusion of language restoring the EOHHS Office of Health Equity in the Medicaid line item. The language continues the work of the office created in last year’s budget, focused on implementation of a comprehensive health disparities reduction strategy for the state. The EOHHS Office of Health Equity is actively working across state secretariats to create interagency health equity strategies and developing an annual state health disparities report card. With continued support through the budget process, the Office will be able to continue advancing its efforts to eliminate health inequalities.

The DAN thanks Rep. Rushing for championing this amendment and his sustained dedication to health equity.

Unfortunately, the ACT!! Coalition’s two budget priorities – FMAP transparency and funding for the MassHealth Outreach Grant program were not included in the final House budget. Likewise, increase funding for the quality bureau and for the Betsy Lehman Center at DPH, were also not included. Both ACT!! and the Health Quality Consumer Council will continue to advocate for these items in the Senate.

An additional $10 million dollars was appropriated to the Prescription Advantage Program. This program provides prescription drug coverage for low-income senior citizens who cannot otherwise afford the cost of their medication. Special thanks to Representative Wolf for introducing this amendment.

Late Thursday night the House voted to increase appropriations for public health programs. The Massachusetts Prescription Reform Coalition (MPRC) had a victory with the Academic Detailing program funded at $100,000 within the Public Health Consolidated budget amendment. This program was not funded in the Governor’s budget or in the original House budget. The goal of academic detailing is to close the gap between the best available science and actual prescribing practice, so that each prescription is based on the most current and accurate evidence about efficacy, safety, and cost-effectiveness and to deliver this information to doctors in an efficient, user-friendly way.

The Office of Oral Health line item was restored by $256,000, including earmarks for oral health programs funded through the Department of Public Health. The current economic climate is a challenging one and our advocates did a great job of educating our legislators, bringing on new cosponsors to support oral health, and ultimately improving funding for the oral health in the House budget! The consolidated amendment, which includes funding for oral health programs, can be found here. A special thank you goes out to Representatives Scibak, Atsalis, Coakley-Rivera, Fagan, and Fennel for their hard work last night to provide more equitable funding for the Office of Oral Health.

Thank you to all our House budget leads, including Reps. Rushing, Scibak, Hecht, Stanley, Malia, Clark, Pedone, Malika, Kafka, O’Day, Garballey, D’Amico and Provost. Also congratulations to Chairman Murphy, and Vice-Chairs Kulik and L’Italien.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee plans to release its budget on May 14-15. Because of decreased revenues thus far in 2009, Senators have hinted at their projected revenues being over $1 billion below the Governor’s projections.