Three bills that MHA and its membership have endorsed throughout their journey in the State House were passed by the legislature last week and now await Governor Charlie Baker’s signature.
Kids’ Health Bill Contains Important Provider Directory Language
An Act Relative to Children’s Health and Wellness (H4210) emerged from conference committee last week, was passed, and sent to the governor. It extends MassHealth coverage until age 26 for young adults formerly in Department of Children and Families custody, creates pilot behavioral health centers of excellence around the state, and creates a commission to investigate the pediatric healthcare workforce, among many other elements.
It also contains language for an MHA legislative priority to ensure patients are presented with accurate provider directories. Families and individuals seeking care in Massachusetts often face difficulty finding providers through their health plan’s provider directory. The language, which was supported by providers, insurers, and mental health advocates, strikes a balance that ensures improvements to provider directory accuracy by holding all parties accountable for short-term, consumer-friendly changes, while allowing insurers, providers, advocates, and policymakers to continue to work together to develop long-term solutions.
Ban on Flavored Tobacco Considered a National First
MHA is a member of the Tobacco Free Mass. coalition that strongly supported legislation that passed last week banning flavored tobacco products, including mint, wintergreen, and menthol flavors. (Menthol has escaped previous bans even though public health interests have noted that it is a numbing agent, allowing smokers to inhale more deeply and become more easily addicted.)
The Massachusetts legislation, which gained national attention for its bold and sweeping ban, also imposes an excise tax on vaping products at 75% of the wholesale price. The bill requires insurers to cover tobacco cessation products and imposes tough fines for stores selling to minors and for selling any vaping product without a license. Flavored vaping products would be banned immediately; the menthol cigarette ban would go into effect June 1, 2020.
Hands-Free Driving Bill Seeks to Reduce Rising Fatalities
The House on Tuesday and the Senate on Wednesday approved a ban on drivers using hand-held cellphones. The votes were near unanimous with just one representative and senator voting no. The legislation imposes fines of $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second, and $500 for subsequent violations of the law.
MHA testified in support of the ban, calling distracted driving “a public health epidemic.” Motor vehicle deaths in Massachusetts increased 13% from 2015 to 2016 and experts generally agree that distracted driving is the primary cause. Additionally, auto insurance premiums have jumped 16% since 2011 and major insurers cite distracted driving as a key factor behind those increases.