Senate Budget Day 2 – Getting to the Good Stuff

As the Senate winds down it’s work for the second (and probably last day) of debate on the FY 2012 State Budget, we can look back and take stock of how some key health issues made out.

Children’s Mental Health was a big winner, with the Senate increasing funding for child and adolescent mental health services, and including language that requires commercial insurers to pay their fair share for the Massachusetts Child Psychiatric Access Project (MCPAP). Big thanks to Senator John Keenan for doing the heavy lift on both of these amendments.

On the Oral Health front, Senator Harriett Chandler got language inserted requiring MassHealth to report on the impact of dental cuts for certain vulnerable populations, including individuals with developmental disabilities, those living with HIV/AIDS, pregnant women, and medically compromised patients.

Despite a strong speech by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, the Senate did not restore legal immigrants to full Commonwealth Care benefits, choosing instead to continue the status quo until the courts will likely force the issue.

Likewise, an amendment offered by Senator Sal DiDominico that would have funded outreach grants failed to pass and one sponsored by Senator Jamie Eldridge that would have asked MassHealth to seek a Medicaid waiver to allow the state to grant 12 month continuous eligibility for children and their familes was withdrawn.

Finally, long-time health champion Senator Richard Moore offered further amendments that made two bad amendments a little less bad. The original amendments were attempts to legalize pharmaceutical coupons (which drive up health costs for everyone by encouraging consumers to gravitate toward more expensive name-brand drugs when cheaper and virtually identical generics are available). Senator Moore’s amendment to the amendment inserted some additional consumer protections into the amendments by requiring a report from the Division of Health Care Finance and Policy on the cost impact of the coupons and preventing pharma from offering coupons with expiration dates that get consumers hooked, only to quickly take away the discount. Differences between what the House and Senate passed on this issue will be worked out in the conference committee; we urge that the Senate language be adopted if anything on this is to be included in the final budget..

All-in-all, it was a busy and eventful debate. Huge thanks goes out to HCFA’s many friends in the Senate, both Senators and aides, who were invaluable in helping us do our work on behalf of consumers, and to Senate President Therese Murray and Ways and Means Chair Stephen Brewer who shepherded this budget through a complicated process during difficult economic times.

Good work to all . Now we can get some sleep and gear up for Conference.
-Matt Noyes

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