House, Senate Health Care Priority Bills On The Move

Doctor talking to girl and her mother in examination room

Photo: John Fedele / The Image Bank / Getty Images

BOSTON (State House News Service) - It could be an autumn of health care reforms on Beacon Hill.

The Health Care Financing Committee began polling its members Thursday morning on whether to recommend passage of nine bills, including a prescription drug pricing proposal expected to hit the Senate floor in the next few weeks, a long-term care package that House Speaker Ron Mariano dubbed a priority, and a revived public health standards bill that died at the finish line last year.

Committee members were given until 9 a.m. Friday to weigh in on the proposals.

On the list of legislation that committee chairs Rep. John Lawn and Sen. Cindy Friedman want to advance is a redrafted prescription drug pricing bill (S 749). A spokesperson for Senate President Karen Spilka said the legislation will serve as the foundation for a vote she pledged this fall.

The wide-ranging measure, authored by Friedman, clocks in at 77 pages. It includes provisions empowering state regulators to more closely examine and rein in high-price medications, subjecting pharmacy benefit managers to greater scrutiny, creating a new program to increase access to treatments for several common chronic illnesses, and more, according to a committee summary.

In each of the last two lawmaking sessions, the Senate approved wide-ranging legislation aimed at reining in prescription drug prices and subjecting industry middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers to greater scrutiny. Neither version advanced in the House.

HCF Committee Summary Of Prescription Drug Pricing Bill

Spilka on Wednesday announced she plans to bring another measure forward for a vote in the next few weeks. She promised Senate action by Thanksgiving, though legislative rules require all formal sessions this year to conclude by Nov. 15.

Her office said Wednesday that the bill would "direct insurance companies to provide a no-cost sharing option for certain prescription drugs used to treat asthma, heart disease, and diabetes -- chronic illnesses that disproportionately affect communities of color and residents with lower income."

"The legislation will increase patient access, lower costs, and improve oversight and transparency -- all with the aim of reducing the burden of high costs for consumers," Spilka said at an event with health care officials, according to her office.

House Democrats in recent years have not signed onto the Senate-led effort to control prescription drug costs, focusing instead on trying to strengthen review of large hospital expansions and the impacts they have on smaller, lower-cost community hospitals. The Senate similarly has not acted on those proposals.

Lawn, the top representative on the Health Care Financing Committee, said after a public hearing in June that he expects both branches to align their approach to tackling health care costs this term.

While it's not clear if Mariano will join the Senate's push to tackle drug prices this time around, he has previously identified health care as a major area of focus.

"There are some things in health care that are changing rapidly. Obviously, Dana-Farber leaving Mass General is a shock to me," Mariano told WCVB's "On the Record" this month when asked about the prospects of his retirement. "I feel like there are some things I'd really like to sink my teeth into and put on what we hope to be the right track."

At the start of the 2023-2024 term, Mariano singled out reforms to improve the long-term care sector as an early priority.

The Health Care Financing Committee moved Thursday to advance an omnibus long-term care reform bill (H 3929) that would implement new monitoring and enforcement tools at facilities, offer tuition reimbursement, career ladders and leadership trainings to attract more workers to the sector, and mandate infection management protocols to avoid crises like those that unfolded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The measure won support in June from the Elder Affairs Committee.

Another bill that Health Care Financing Committee chairs recommended advancing Thursday reflects the latest effort to improve local and regional public health in Massachusetts.

The bill (H 4101), which supporters dubbed "SAPHE 2.0," requires the Department of Public Health to create a set of baseline public health standards and provide adequate resources for boards of health at the local and regional level. Supporters argue the pandemic highlighted disparities in public health capabilities across the state's 351 cities and towns.

Both branches unanimously approved an earlier version of the bill in the final days of formal sessions last year. Gov. Charlie Baker returned it with an amendment, and lawmakers did not process his proposed changes during informal sessions, allowing the bill to die.

The other bills being polled deal with rapid whole genome sequencing (H 1197), special needs trusts for disabled seniors (H 1202), life estates in MassHealth eligibility (H 1229), homes of seniors and disabled people who are MassHealth members (S 726), health coverage for children (S 740) and medically fragile children (S 748).

Written By Chris Lisinski/SHNS

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