September 6, 2022 – With the conclusion of the 2021-2022 legislative session, it is important to look back and reflect on what Health Care For All (HCFA) has achieved and what policy work remains to be done to advance health justice in Massachusetts. We spent what is now a third session working under the reprise of high COVID-19 infections and a hybrid legislature continuing to advocate for more access to affordable health care and sensible consumer protections aimed at improving the lives of individuals and families living in the Commonwealth.
We reported earlier on several HCFA priorities that passed in the legislature as a part of the state budget. On July 28th, Governor Charlie Baker signed the Fiscal Year2023 (FY2023) budget which provided $52.7 billion in state spending to support the Commonwealth’s communities, families, businesses, and workers. Two of HCFA’s top budget priorities have now been signed into law – continued funding for the HelpLine, which provides assistance to nearly 25,000 individuals in five languages each year, and the creation of the Oral Health Commission that will help move us toward a more equitable and accessible dental care system in the state. Unfortunately, the Governor blocked the proposal to expand ConnectorCare to an estimated 37,000 residents in the Commonwealth. While this is not the outcome we had hoped for, HCFA will continue to work with the legislature in the upcoming session to expand access to affordable coverage for Massachusetts families.
HCFA’s legislative priorities for the 2021-2022 session included policies to expand health insurance coverage, reduce costs and address inequities in access to health care. In part one of this two-part series, we will take a look at HCFA’s maternal and behavioral health priorities. In part two, we will dive into HCFA’s priorities to address health care affordability and consumers’ out-of-pocket costs.
Maternal mortality and morbidity continues to be a growing crisis in the United States, especially for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Black women alone face three times the maternal mortality risk compared to white women. In Massachusetts, birthing people who are eligible for the state’s Medicaid program (MassHealth) lose coverage after 60 days postpartum limiting access to key services, such as care and support for pregnancy related-complications, chronic disease and behavioral health.
HCFA has been working alongside Sen. Joan Lovely and Rep. Liz Miranda to advance legislation that will expand MassHealth postpartum coverage to 12 months. In March, the Senate passed S.2731, An Act relative to expanding equitable access to maternal postpartum care, which is currently in the House Committee on Ways and Means. MassHealth is on a path to implement this policy permanently, ensuring that this provision is maintained even when administrations change. HCFA will continue to work with various stakeholders and the legislature to hopefully get this bill across the finish line before the end of the year.
On August 10th, the Governor signed into law An Act addressing barriers to care for mental health, the “Mental Health ABC Act.” This law aims to strengthen the health care and school system’s ability to respond to the growing need for behavioral health services. HCFA worked with our partners in the Children’s Mental Health Campaign to advocate for several key provisions including: strengthening mental health parity enforcement and consumer protections, enhancing coverage requirements for mental health services, providing new tools to address the Emergency Department boarding crisis, enhancing the ability of schools to support students’ behavioral health needs, addressing barriers to care for children and youth with special health needs, adding behavioral health expenditures to the Health Policy Commission cost trends process and several other, much needed provisions. We look forward to working with stakeholders to ensure the law’s many provisions make a tangible difference in the lives of individuals and families across the Commonwealth.
Over the past two years, the pandemic has highlighted the growing need for behavioral and maternal health services. We have seen an unprecedented increase in anxiety and depression in school aged children. Covid-19 has also made disparities strikingly clear for birthing people and People of Color who have always had higher maternal mortality rates compared to their white counterparts. At this critical time, we thank Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Ron Mariano, the legislature and the Baker administration for their tireless work and dedication this session to making health care more affordable, accessible, and equitable to the residents of the Commonwealth. As we prepare for the upcoming legislative session, HCFA will continue to work alongside our community partners to build legislative priorities that will bring high quality and affordable health care to all Massachusetts residents.
Kerwin Amo is a Policy & Project Coordinator at Health Care For All.