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

Public Health Committee Hears Bills

Public Health Committee Hears Bills

October 28, 2009

Last week, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health held a hearing on health insurance and financing related bills. The hearing was chaired by Senator Fargo and Representative Sanchez and began with an executive session to favorably report out S. 810. This bill establishes a permanent Office of Health Equity in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and is priority of the Disparities Action Network.

Two HCFA priority bills were heard:

Dr. Cathryn Samples of Children’s Hospital Boston testified on behalf of S. 54. Dr. Samples testified that expanding MassHealth services to all recipients through age 20, “is right and fiscally responsible.” As a physician in a clinic that provides 15,000 visits to 5,000 patients per year, she noted that most of her patients were MassHealth beneficiaries. She also explained that this bill could provide access to healthcare for the majority of uninsured youth who come from poor households and would qualify for MassHealth services. In her testimony, Dr. Samples gave three specific reasons for supporting the bill. The continuity of coverage would provide stability for youths and keep any of their chronic conditions under control. Keeping youths covered under MassHealth until age 21 would also simplify administration of the program which is often a daunting process to adults let alone youths. MassHealth in its implementation is a simpler and more straightforward way to ensure that young people have health insurance coverage. We blogged more details last week.

The ACT!! Coalition panel testified on behalf of H. 4258/S. 873. Neil Cronin from the Mass Law Reform Institute set the tone for the content of the panel. He explained that this bill seeks to make some “policy tweaks” to Chapter 58 including CommCare eligibility provisions, reimbursement of interim services, and the inclusion of a Fair Hearings officer in the appeal process. He explained how CommCare provisions often lead to gaps in coverage because eligibility only occurs a month after the month of enrollment in the plan. Mike Sroczynski of Mass. Hospital Association described how the bill would allow the Health Safety Net coverage to be retroactive to all eligible patients.

In her testimony, Suzanne Curry, the ACT!! Health Reform Coordinator explained that the bill makes permanent the EOHHS health outreach unit. It would also create an advisory committee to oversee the program. She also spoke about the importance of outreach and the way it helps people navigate the health care system by connecting people to coverage, as well as to care and providers. A major component of the bill is to employ culturally and linguistically competent outreach workers who will be able to strengthen the lines of communication surrounding healthcare reform. Allyson Perron from the American Heart/American Stroke Association demonstrated the need to prohibit lifetime caps in all health insurance by telling the story of Jake. Jake needed to have three heart surgeries within the first two years of his life and by age four, had used half of his $1 million lifetime cap. He is 14 years old now and doing well but has about $750,000 in medical bills each year and thankfully now has a plan without a lifetime cap.

Several other bills were heard. The single-payer bill, H. 2127 (“An Act to Establish the Massachusetts Health Care Trust”) received extensive testimony. Co-sponsors Rep. Matt Patrick and Senator Patricia Jehlen spoke passionately in support of the bill, while Jehlen acknowledged its lack of political feasibility.

Testimony was also heard for S. 848, “An Act Relative to MassHealth Enrollment for Persons Leaving Correctional Facilities,” from James Walsh of the Massachusetts Association of Sheriffs and Marilyn Morningside of the Health Services Administration at a western MA correctional facility. They explained that most prisoners were MassHealth eligible when entering the corrections system, but have no MassHealth card when released. They believe enrolling this population of approximately 15,000 people will not add significant costs to the state’s bottom line because this population was already part of the state healthcare system whether through MassHealth or the corrections system. Furthermore, they argue that without proper healthcare services, these inmates could wind up back in the corrections system, which would cost the state even more money.

The public hearing was a powerful display of ideas and Massachusetts ingenuity. Panelists provided very touching and informative testimony aimed at improving and streamlining health care processes in Massachusetts.
- Yelena Kuznetsov