Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Today, July 29, I have voted in the affirmative on An Act to promote resilience in our health care system, a tailored piece of legislation to support the health of individuals and the strength of our healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To say that this virus has been anything less than devastating would be an understatement. It has wreaked havoc on lives, separated us from loved ones, and caused damage with effects we do not understand and cannot even begin to predict the tragic loss of lives. It has amplified the healthcare issues we faced prior to the pandemic – communities of color with significant health disparities now face even worse outcomes, accessing affordable healthcare has become even more difficult, and safety net hospitals and community health centers struggling to keep their doors open for the most vulnerable have even more dire balance sheets.
Our legislation signifies to people across the Commonwealth that, during a worldwide pandemic, Massachusetts is committed to helping people access treatment and care – for COVID-19, for asthma, for behavioral health services, for cancer treatment or even if your toddler has a stomach ache – no matter your income level or zip code.
Early in the state of emergency, the Governor exercised his powers to expand telehealth, which now allows patients to visit health care providers remotely via video or telephone. Many people, myself included, have been skeptical of telehealth’s ability to replace some in-person visits. However, as we quickly adapted to the new normal, the flexibility of telehealth has been instrumental in ensuring people continue to access basic healthcare needs without having to leave their home. Building on this lesson, our legislation mandates coverage for telehealth for eligible health care services, including primary care services, behavioral health services, and chronic disease management, with rate parity through July 1, 2021.
The bill also mandates insurance coverage for COVID-19 emergency and inpatient services, including all professional, diagnostic, and laboratory services through July 31, 2021, so no one will be denied treatment by their insurance company, and extends temporary licenses granted to certain health care providers during the pandemic to December 31, 2021 to help ensure we have adequate workers to provide care.
Throughout this crisis, we are painfully aware that our healthcare workers – our frontline staff – are working without adequate personal protective equipment. It made news early on, and while we might not hear about it as frequently now, nurses and other frontline workers are still being asked to reuse masks even after being exposed to patients infected with the coronavirus. Hospitals currently report their inventory of PPE to the Department of Public Health, so I submitted an amendment that would make that data public. With the support of my colleagues, the amendment was adopted, and I believe that these datapoints will be a tool to identify the current status and anticipated needs for appropriate and sufficient PPE needs and will focus attention on what health care providers and all frontline workers need most – to be safe on the job.
Additionally, our bill makes the following necessary adjustments to the Commonwealth’s healthcare system:
- Authorizes independent prescriptive practice for nurse practitioners and psychiatric nurse mental health clinical specialists after completing 2 years of supervised practice;
- Directs enhanced Medicaid payments to invest in and stabilize independent community hospitals serving low-income individuals suffering from COVID-19;
- Codifies the out-of-network rate for emergency and inpatient services at 135% of the Medicare rate, as issued by the Governor, and expands the rate to all patients receiving out-of-network emergency and inpatient services provided on an emergency basis;
- Increases access to care by requiring urgent care centers to accept patients with MassHealth; and
- Stabilizes nursing homes by requiring MassHealth to pay to reserve a member’s bed in a nursing home for up to 20 days if the resident is being treated in a hospital for COVID-19.
For years I have filed and fought for Medicare For All with my colleagues in the nursing profession, concerned citizens in my community and in the State House. The systemic barriers to accessing care, the lack of affordability for a variety of reasons, diverting of resources to redundant administrative processes, and a distressing inequality of quality in services has been amplified during the Covid-19 crisis. The stresses of COVID-19 public health crisis and the systematic dismantling of healthcare by the federal administration has further eroded a fragmented system.
This healthcare legislation by no means solves all our problems. Instead, it is an immediate response to identified problems and newly tested solutions. We can emerge from this crisis more resilient and turn our sights towards continued work to make our healthcare system one that upholds the principles of access to safe, affordable quality healthcare for all.
The bill will now go to the Senate. A conference committee may be appointed to reconcile a final version that heads to the Governor’s desk.
May you and your loved ones and everyone be well and be safe.
Denise C. Garlick