//Baker-Polito Administration Highlights Health Care Bill at Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center

Baker-Polito Administration Highlights Health Care Bill at Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center

BOSTON — Today, Governor Charlie Baker and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders joined Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center CEO Stan McLaren, health care leaders, clinicians, patients, community leaders, and state and local officials to highlight the Baker-Polito Administration’s health care legislation, An Act to Improve Health Care by Investing in VALUE. Today’s event focused on three critical elements of the bill: increasing access to and investment in behavioral health, ensuring high-quality coordinated care and stabilizing community health centers across the state.

“To address current challenges within the health care system and an evolving patient population, we need to promote better access to primary and behavioral care services,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This fall, we filed comprehensive health care legislation which aims to increase investments in these services and make important changes that will enable expanded access for patients, along with a series of other reforms designed to modernize and improve our health care system for the future. We look forward to working with the Legislature to pass this bill.”

“The Baker-Polito Administration is pleased to continue investing in community health centers, which are a critical part of health care delivery in communities across the Commonwealth, serving one in every six Massachusetts residents,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “The administration’s health care bill will increase spending in vital practice areas provided by community health centers, and will further expand access to care.”

“This legislation strengthens behavioral health workforce and access in the Commonwealth, helping to ensure that Massachusetts residents who need care can access it,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. “Expanding access to behavioral health treatment is a critical need in Massachusetts – where it’s estimated that two out of five people who sought behavioral health or substance use treatment in the past year had their needs unmet.”

This comprehensive health care legislation, filed by Governor Baker in October, aims to improve outcomes for patients, increase access to care and bring down costs. The legislation includes reforms in five major areas:

  • Prioritizing behavioral health and primary care
  • Managing health care cost drivers to protect consumers
  • Improving access to high-quality, coordinated care
  • Stabilizing distressed community hospitals and health centers
  • Promoting insurance market reforms

Increased Access to and Investment in Behavioral Health:

At today’s event, speakers highlighted the elements of the legislation that prioritize investments in primary care and behavioral health within the cost growth benchmark, including:

  • Payers and providers to increase combined expenditures on primary care and behavioral health by 30% over three years
  • Encourage behavioral health practitioners to accept insurance
  • Further development of the behavioral health professional workforce

Additionally, the bill promotes timely access to appropriate behavioral health treatment by requiring payers to maintain accurate and updated provider directories, prohibiting payers from denying coverage or imposing additional costs for same-day behavioral health and certain medical visits, and requiring acute care hospitals to maintain clinical capacity to provide or arrange for the evaluation, stabilization and referral of patients with behavioral health conditions in emergency departments.

Ensuring High Quality, Coordinated Care:

The legislation seeks to improve access to high-quality, coordinated care by improving the scope of practice standards to allow nurse practitioners and psychiatric nurse mental health clinical specialists to independently prescribe without a supervising physician. Additionally, the bill calls for the creation of a mid-level dental position to provide preventive and basic dental services and the alignment of practice standards for optometrists and podiatrists with other states.

Stabilizing Community Health Centers:

Finally, the legislation calls for stabilization efforts for distressed community hospitals and health centers. The Community Hospital and Health Center Investment Trust Fund (CHHCITF) will be funded through continued transfers from CHIA ($10M), and revenues collected through a penalty on drug manufacturers for excess price increases and penalties on entities referred to Health Policy Council for exceeding the benchmark. Funds would be equitably distributed to community hospitals and health centers.

“Community health centers are on the frontlines of some of the most vexing public health issues of our times, including the opioid crisis,” said Stanley McLaren, President & CEO of Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center in Dorchester. “The Baker-Polito health care bill provides a strong foundation for addressing health center financial challenges as we work to meet overwhelming need in our communities.”

“Developing a stable workforce is the single greatest imperative for community health centers and our patients,” said Dr. Christopher Zimmerman, Medical Director of Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center. “As competition for primary care clinicians intensifies and the psychiatrist shortage becomes more severe, Governor Baker’s proposal to expand the role of nurse practitioners and psychiatric nurse mental health clinical specialists will go far in increasing patient access to primary and behavioral health care.”

“Nurse Practitioners (NP) are key to providing the care needs of undeserved communities like ours,” said Vanessa Fernandes, Nurse Practitioner at HSNHC. “Expanding the scope of NP care will allow us to provide continual high quality care to our patients.”

In addition to filing this legislation, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services has undertaken an initiative to develop a behavioral health system in the Commonwealth. This initiative began with listening sessions across the Commonwealth to gather input from stakeholders, the publishing of a Request for Information, and will culminate in the launch of a blueprint based on gathered feedback. This fall, the Administration took immediate action, including filing legislation prioritizing behavioral health and primary care, amending Department of Public Health regulations, expanding access to treatment, improving emergency services for individuals in psychiatric crisis, and providing loan forgiveness for specific health care professionals working in public or non-profit sectors.

For more information on An Act to Improve Health Care by Investing in VALUE, visit Mass.gov/InvestingInValue.