Tomorrow, the Senate will debate S.2202, comprehensive health care legislation that focuses on lowering costs, increasing access, and improving consumer protections. S.2202 is an important step toward reforming our broken health care system, and I’m grateful to the Senate Working Group behind this important piece of legislation. As a long-term advocate of universal healthcare, I have filed amendments and co-sponsored others that I believe will further strengthen the bill, and put us on a path towards making access to affordable health care a right in Massachusetts.
However, it’s important to note that if elected officials in Massachusetts are truly serious about providing quality healthcare to all residents, and reducing healthcare costs, the best way to achieve that is single payer, which I filed this session as S.619, An Act to Establish Medicare for All. (Side note: if you support this effort, please come to the #RightToHealthMA Lobby Day at the State House on Monday, November 14th!)
Here’s a summary of some of the amendments to look out for when the Senate debates S.2202, but to be clear, there are plenty of other great amendments and I’m only highlighting certain ones to get the conversation going.
Health Care as a Right (#2 – Senator Cyr)
This amendment would require the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) to study the impact of a single payer health care system in Massachusetts. It’s important that we have a thorough cost analysis on single payer, including how it would compare to our current profit-driven system. This amendment, also a bill (S.610) filed by Senator Cyr, is a top priority of Mass-Care, the statewide single payer healthcare organization.
MassHealth Buy-In Program (#153 – Senator Eldridge)
This amendment would give all Massachusetts residents access to get coverage through MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, by creating a Medicaid buy-in program. The program would be available through the connector to anyone not otherwise eligible for MassHealth and offer coverage nearly identical to MassHealth. The program will be available beginning during the connector open enrollment period that begins in 2019.
Public Health Insurance Program (#129 – Senator Eldridge)
This amendment creates a public health insurance program to be administered by and available through the Commonwealth Connector Authority. The plan must meet all requirements to receive the connector seal of approval. Providers participating in Medicare are automatically in-network for the public program unless they opt-out. The program would be available beginning in 2019.
Expanding Medicare Savings Programs (#120 – Senator L’Italien)
This amendment would reform outdated eligibility requirements for Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs) to ensure that more low-income seniors have access to affordable health care services. Rising living costs are forcing more and more seniors to choose between food, rent, and health care services. Economic insecurity among older adults in Massachusetts is reaching crisis levels – I see this at food pantries and free medical clinics throughout my district.
Improved Access to Medical Services (#35 – Senator Eldridge)
This amendment requires the Improved Medical Access in Rural and Underserved Areas task force to consider the licensing of medical professionals trained/licensed out of state in addition to those who are trained or licensed in foreign countries. Geography should not be a barrier to health care services, and removing this licensing barrier would allow rural areas to attract more medical professionals.
Social Worker Loan Repayment Pilot Program (#40 – Senator Eldridge)
This amendment creates a pilot program for social worker loan forgiveness. The program is limited to 100 Licensed Certified Social Workers (LCSWs), sets eligibility standards for loan forgiveness, and caps loan reimbursement payments from the state at $250/month for 48 months. Whether we’re talking about child welfare or mental health issues such as addiction, we need to improve access to behavioral health treatment in Massachusetts, and increasing the amount of LCSWs would help us achieve that goal. High student debt combined with a low median salary serve as barriers for students pursuing a career in social work, and I believe that this pilot program will alleviate some of those problems.