House Budget: Good News/Bad News/Good News

Some items from day 2 of the House budget debate and votes on amendments:

Dental Students Lobby For MassHealth Dental Benefits 4-26-11Good News: A strong group of dental students and advocates gathered this afternoon at the State House to speak up for oral health. In just under two hours they were able to visit the office of every Representative to urge them to support Amendment #203. The amendment, filed by Representative Scibak, seeks to restore MassHealth adult dental benefits for some of the most vulnerable residents of the Commonwealth. Don’t forget to call your Representative today (look up the number here) to remind them that oral health IS health, and that MassHealth adult dental benefits need to be restored.

Bad News: Like last year, the House voted 128-22 to repeal the drug and device marketing restrictions law (see Globe coverage). Just hours after the House leadership announced their desire to keep substantive legislation out of the budget, the House adopted a non-budgetary provision repealing an entire section of the General Laws. The proposal had not been considered by any Committee, nor had an open public hearing for public comment and debate.

During the debate, pharma’s supporters dragged out the same already-refuted arguments they always use. They kvetched about the restaurant industry, despite the highest ever state meals tax receipts, indicating a health restaurant economy. The talked about canceled conventions and biotech jobs. Yet, as Rep. Jason Lewis put it in the debate, “More than 30 biotech companies created more than 800 new jobs in Massachusetts last year along. There has been no – that I’m aware of – no discernable drop in revenue to the commonwealth as a result of the gift ban. The demand for the convention center is growing.”

In fact, as we pointed out, Medical Meeting magazine reported that “the actual fallout out [of the gifts law] has been about nil. No meetings were pulled out of Boston because of the new law.”

Our partner AARP, the largest membership organization in the state, put out a statement that was exactly on point:

“AARP is dismayed by the House’s action today to repeal the state’s prescription drug company gift ban, which restricts drug company marketing practices, like free lunches for doctors, that drive up prescription prices for consumers. … Bottom line: The cost of free lunches and other perks for prescribers should not be footed by consumers who are struggling to afford their medication. AARP will fight to keep the gift ban on the books, and to bring down the high cost of prescription drugs. We urge the Senate to do the right thing, and protect the prescription drug company gift ban.”

We will be fighting aggressively in the Senate to prevent this backwards step from making it to the Governor’s desk.

Good News: The House approved a consolidated public health amendment that restores some of the deep cuts made in vital public health programs. The $8.95 million amendment includes an additional $2.4 million for early intervention programs, $2.5 million more for for HIV/AIDS services, and an additional $335,000 for smoking cessation. We’re particularly pleased that the additional $2 million for health promotion and disease prevention adds language funding the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety. The amendment also doubles substance abuse step-down services funding to $4.8 million, and adds an additional $500,000 for the Women, Infant and Children’s nutritional services.

More health-related amendments should come up over the next few days. Please call your Rep!
-Brian Rosman

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