APRIL 11, 2022…..Passing health care legislation on Beacon Hill is a complicated exercise, as policymakers look for buy-in from an array of stakeholders with sometimes-competing priorities, including patients, different types of providers, public and private insurers, drug companies, and individual legislators with their own concerns.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s bid to get his health care reform package onto the books in his last year in office faces another challenge: the short window of time remaining for lawmakers to reach consensus on his multi-pronged bill before formal legislative sessions end for the year on July 31.

“It’s almost the end of April. There’s an enormous number of things on the plate of the Legislature,” Sen. Cindy Friedman, the co-chair of the Health Care Financing Committee, told Baker as her panel held a hearing on his bill. “This bill has really important things in it that I know that we care very, very much about, both the Legislature and the executive branch. If we are limited in what we are able to do, are there things in this bill that you believe are of such high priority that you would say, ‘We gotta do this?'”

In broad strokes, the governor’s bill (S 2774) aims to inject more resources into behavioral health and primary care, target health care cost drivers and boost access to care.

Baker said the current health care system “rewards those providers that invest in technology and transactional specialty services at the expense of those who choose to invest in primary care, geriatrics, addiction services and behavioral health” and that he is proposing reforms “designed to address the underlying challenges the system faces.”

Like legislation he first proposed in 2019 — one of many bills whose path through the legislative process was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic — the bill Baker filed in March would require providers and payers to increase their spending on primary care and behavioral health by 30 percent, while still keeping their overall spending growth within targets created under a 2012 cost control law.

It would also penalize drug manufacturers for price increases deemed to be excessive, establish new oversight for pharmacy benefit managers, bring Massachusetts into a multi-state physician licensure compact, and require licensing for urgent care services, among other measures.

Health Care for All’s Alyssa Vangeli told the committee that the Legislature “now has a number of viable vehicles to rein in rising prescription drug costs,” including a pharmaceutical access and accountability bill that the Senate passed in February.

The Senate this session has also passed a separate behavioral health bill, and Speaker Ron Mariano said last month that the House plans to take up its own mental health bill that will “complement and combine with the Senate to broaden the expanse of the mental health changes that we need.”

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