Afternoon Briefs: House Mental Health Debate | “One Big Package” | Dentists For Ballot Q
6/13/22 4:58 PM
- House Ready To Wade Back Into Mental Health Debate
- Awaiting Roe Ruling, Mariano Eyes "One Big Package"
- Dentists' Group Declares Support For Ballot Question
House Ready To Wade Back Into Mental Health Debate
House lawmakers plan to take up a mental health bill on Thursday, Speaker Ronald Mariano said Monday in an announcement signaling a brighter likelihood that the branches in the coming weeks will together tackle a pressing topic. "I think it's going to be released Wednesday, and you'll have all the details," Mariano said after meeting privately with Senate President Karen Spilka, Gov. Charlie Baker and other top Beacon Hill officials. In March, Mariano had said the House planned to pursue a bill that would "complement and combine with" the mental health legislation the Senate unanimously passed in November. He used that same language on Monday, though did not offer up specifics of what policies the House is looking to tackle. "I said from the very beginning that it was meant to complement the Senate's plan," the Quincy Democrat said. "And I think you're going to see the focus on a little bit of a different area than what the Senate went into, but we aim to be creating a complete mental health program for our citizens in the Commonwealth. That's the goal." The Senate bill (S 2584) mandates insurance coverage for an annual mental health exam, similar to an annual physical, would eliminate insurers' prior authorization for patients who need acute mental health treatment, and set a rate floor to reimburse mental health clinicians at the same level as primary care providers for evaluation and management services. It also includes policies aimed at ending a longstanding problem: long stays in emergency rooms for patients waiting for a psychiatric bed. The bill Mariano teased could surface in Wednesday's informal House session before the House fully delves into it on Thursday. House Democrats also plan to meet in a private caucus on Wednesday afternoon, where they'll likely discuss the bill. - Katie Lannan/SHNS
Awaiting Roe Ruling, Mariano Eyes "One Big Package"
It's been more than a month since the publication of a leaked, draft U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would strike down Roe v. Wade, and while the Senate has acted in response, House Speaker Ronald Mariano indicated Monday he would prefer to wait until a final decision to chart a state legislative response aimed at protecting abortion access. "Right now, there's a lot of people running around trying to prevent a lot of things from happening, and I would rather, if we're going to attack a problem, see what the court is going to decide and where the limits are and then make decisions based around that with one big package that addresses a lot of the issues," Mariano said. The nation's highest court still has not issued an opinion reversing the 1973 case that legalized abortion nationally, but reproductive rights advocates across the country and many Democrats in Massachusetts responded to the draft ruling by sounding the alarm and calling for action. The Senate in May stitched language into their fiscal 2023 state budget bill that would protect reproductive and gender-affirming health care providers in Massachusetts from legal action originating in other states, where lawmakers have approved restrictions and in some cases "bounty" provisions aimed at stretching across state lines. That measure will not reach Republican Gov. Charlie Baker unless the House agrees to include it in the final budget bill, and the speaker's comments on Monday about "one big package" raise questions about whether lawmakers plan to tackle the topic through the budget, in standalone legislation, or as part of some other bill. Mariano did not explicitly say Monday if he supports or opposes the Senate's proposal, though his interest in an omnibus approach could put him at odds with his colleagues across the hall. "The Senate talked about some issues in their budget and I understand that," Mariano said. "This problem could be fairly broad-based and need an awful lot of work, so instead of doing it piecemeal and patchwork, it'd be much easier to go in once you see (what the court does)." Lawmaker are set to wrap up formal business for the two-year session on July 31, and the exact timing of a final court ruling is not known. Asked if it was possible to craft and complete abortion legislation in July alone, Mariano replied, "Probably. A lot of it could be done. We have bills on a lot of different things still left in studies that we can pull out." - Chris Lisinski/SHNS
Dentists' Group Declares Support For Ballot Question
The Massachusetts Dental Society stepped into the ballot question arena on Monday, endorsing a proposal to apply a spending limit on dental insurance companies that could go before voters in November. Requiring carriers of dental insurance to spend at least 83 percent of their dollars on dental expenses rather than administrative expenses would "make dental providers more transparent and accountable to the patients they serve," the society said in an announcement of its position on the initiative petition. "As an advocate for both regular and affordable dental care for all Massachusetts residents, the MDS endorses the Massachusetts Medical Loss Ratios for Dental Insurance Plans Initiative and encourages Massachusetts residents to pass it in November," said MDS President Dr. Meredith Bailey. "Patient dollars should be required to be spent in support of their oral health, and patients deserve visibility into how much of their dental insurance premiums are paying for care as opposed to administrative costs." If the question's sponsors clear the final signature-gathering hurdle and win a majority of votes in November, dental insurance carriers would newly face medical loss ratios like those in place under state and federal law for medical insurance plans. Carriers would also need to refund excess premiums to members and comply with new data reporting requirements. MDS, which represents more than 5,000 Bay State dentists, said both its statewide group and the broader American Dental Association would support the ballot question campaign. Orthodontist Mouhab Rizkallah chairs the ballot question committee and so far has fully funded the campaign using $501,000 of his own money, according to state campaign finance records. Jason Aluia of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans in March told lawmakers his group, which represents more than a dozen health plans, opposes the question and warned it would lead to "increased premiums for consumers and increased costs for businesses offering dental coverage to employees receiving those benefits." In February, opponents of the ballot question filed paperwork with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, but so far the committee has not reported any fundraising or spending. - Chris Lisinski/SHNS
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