After two long days (and long nights), the Senate finalized their budget for Fiscal Year 2014 (which starts in July), and in doing so brought some good tidings for health in Massachusetts.
Perhaps the greatest win was in oral health – the Senate allocated $13 million to the MassHealth line item to restore coverage for dental fillings for MassHealth members. Senator Harriette Chandler led a group of senators to push for the increase. Limits in current coverage often force patients to choose between enduring months (or years) of dental pain due to untreated cavities, or undergoing the only covered treatment: tooth extraction. Now the issue is before the conference committee, where both the House and the Senate have strong provisions to restore coverage for fillings. We support full funding of the benefit through the appropriations process for MassHealth dental care.
Another win for oral health came in a no-cost amendment ordering a study on the dental needs for disabled individuals. This study could provide some crucial data to support the work of the state’s program for individuals with special health care needs.
In addition, the efforts of Senator John Keenan helped pass the mental health parity amendment, highlighting the failure in insurance companies to meet obligations under parity laws established in 2008. The Early Intervention Program also received $1 million towards addressing health issues in children when they first arise. The senate also added an additional $1 million in funds for the Department of Public Health’s Division of Health Care Quality. These funds will help reach underserved populations and ensure high-priority work is done quickly and efficiently.
There is still work to be done: efforts to increase funding for MassHealth operations did not make the Senate’s final budget (still, the Senate line item is funded higher than the House’s budget). Senators also withdrew two amendments we had advocated for: one which would create a transparent fund to spend additional federal revenue the state is receiving though the ACA, and another which would mandate the Department of Public Health to define the “modest” meals pharmaceutical and medical device companies can serve doctors. HCFA is pursuing legislative avenues in both of these proposals, however.
The Mass Budget and Policy Center has a comprehensive review of the key conference committee issues for the budget.
While the House and Senate budgets assume a restructuring of—and funding for—[MassHealth and other subsidized health] programs that is virtually identical to that assumed in the Governor’s budget, they also provide less funding than the Governor proposed for restoration of past cuts and new investments in health care programs. The Senate proposes total funding of $13.37 billion for MassHealth and related health coverage programs in FY 2014 and the House proposes funding of $13.29 billion for these programs, both well below the Governor’s proposal of $13.52. The lower funding levels reflect the constraints within which House and Senate budget writers had to construct their budget plans once they had rejected the Governor’s revenue proposal. Although each chamber made different policy choices as they confronted that task, the two budgets are fairly similar after adjusting for differences in accounting and assumptions about enrollment.
As we move closer to the final budget for 2014, we are deeply encouraged by the progress made so far in the budget process. It is our hope that legislators settle on a budget which protects the health of all residents in the Commonwealth.