Politics

What are the lawmakers, and other state and federal officials, up to when it comes to health reform laws?

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Thousands Ruled Ineligible For Mass. Medicaid

Tens of thousands of people have been removed from the state’s Medicaid program during the first phase of an eligibility review, according to figures from Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration obtained by The Associated Press.

The eligibility checks, required annually under federal law but not performed in Massachusetts since 2013, began earlier this year as part of Baker’s plan to squeeze $761 million in savings from MassHealth, the government-run health insurance program for about 1.7 million poor and disabled residents.

At $15.3 billion, MassHealth is the state’s single largest budget expense.

Based on the results of the redetermination process so far, the state was on track to achieve the savings it had hoped for in the current fiscal year without cutting benefits for eligible recipients, said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. Continue reading

Feds Seek Massachusetts Health Exchange Records

Federal authorities have subpoenaed records related to the Massachusetts Health Connector, including a period covering the breakdown of the health exchange’s website, The Associated Press has learned.

“The administration received a subpoena regarding the Health Connector’s difficulties dating back to 2010 and we are fully cooperating with the Department of Justice,” Elizabeth Guyton, a spokeswoman for Gov. Charlie Baker, said in a statement.

The administration said the subpoena came from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston shortly after Baker took office in January. No details were immediately available, and it was not clear what information was being sought from the agency.

The U.S. Attorney’s office did not immediately return a request seeking comment.

Massachusetts’ first-in-the-nation universal health care program served as a model for President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. But the state’s transition to the federal program in 2013-2014 proved disastrous, forcing the administration of former Gov. Deval Patrick to place hundreds of thousands of residents into temporary Medicaid coverage.

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Report Finds Stark Gaps In Mass. Addiction Care

The math is simple and starkly clear.

There are 868 detox beds in Massachusetts, where patients go to break the cycle of addiction. They stay on average one week. Coming out, they hit one of the many hurdles explained in a report out this week from the Center for Health Information and Analysis on access to substance abuse treatment in the state.

There are only 297 beds in facilities where patients can have two weeks to become stable. There are 331 beds in four-week programs.

As the table below shows, there are almost four times as many men and women coming out of detox, with its one-week average, as there are from a two- or four-week program.

From the CHIA report on Access to Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Massachusetts

From the CHIA report on Access to Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Massachusetts

Patients who can’t get into a residential program right away describe a spin cycle, where they detox and relapse, detox and relapse. Some seek programs in other states with shorter wait times.

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Mass. VA Clinic, Hospital Wait Times Vary Widely

In a state that prides itself on access to great health care, wait times at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics vary widely, with some facilities in central and western Massachusetts delaying appointments at much higher rates than in the affluent east.

Nearly 9,000 medical appointments at VA facilities in Massachusetts – about 2 percent of the state’s total during the six-month period ending in February- failed to meet the department’s goal of completing medical appointments within 30 days.

That’s better than the national average of 2.8 percent, but nearly half the delays in Massachusetts occurred at only three of the state’s 20 facilities, according to government data reviewed by the Associated Press.

“We’re working to get the veterans into their appointments in a more timely manner. It’s a work in progress.”

– Dennis Ramstein, Central Western Mass. VA spokesman

The AP analysis of six months of appointment data at 940 VA hospitals and clinics nationwide found that the number of medical appointments delayed 30 to 90 days has stayed flat since Congress began pumping $16.3 billion dollars into the VA system in August. The number of appointments that take longer than 90 days to complete has nearly doubled.

Many of the delay-prone hospitals and clinics are clustered within a few hours’ drive of each other in a handful of Southern states, often in areas with a strong military presence, a partly rural population and patient growth that has outpaced the VA’s sluggish planning process.

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Hundreds Gather At Final Public Hearing On State’s Opioid Abuse Crisis

Two to three men and women in Massachusetts will die today from heroin or other opiate overdoses, according to current death rates.

“There were three times as many deaths associated with opioid overdoses last year as there were automobile accident deaths,” said Gov. Charlie Baker, speaking at the fourth and final hearing yesterday of a task force he appointed to vet the state’s drug abuse problem. “That’s really all you need to know to understand that it’s in fact a crisis.”

The task force is expected to make its recommendations on how to deal with the statewide drug crisis by next month. Ahead of that deadline, hundreds of people turned out at the State House Thursday to relate their stories of addiction and recovery.

WBUR’s Martha Bebinger joins Morning Edition with a report on what was said during Thursday’s hearing.

To hear the full report, click on the audio player above.

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Gov. Baker Adds Voice To Hundreds At Opioid Hearing

Hundreds turned out for the final public hearing before Gov. Charlie Baker’s opioid abuse task force to share their stories of addiction and recovery as the administration plots a course forward to combat what Baker has called a “crisis” in Massachusetts.

Baker joined Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders and Attorney General Maura Healey, both leaders of the task force, for the fourth and final public listening session on Thursday as the task force prepares to issues recommendations to the governor in May.

“There are plenty of opportunities for us to do everything that we need to do to make sure people have the access that they need and they deserve to pain medication, but we need to be open and honest with ourselves about the way we all, as a society, think about pain meds with respect to all sides of those issues,” Baker told the audience, which had crowded into the State House’s Gardner Auditorium.

The Massachusetts State Police this week reported that there had been 217 fatal opioid overdoses in the first three months of 2015, not including data from the state’s three largest cities of Boston, Worcester and Springfield.

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More Than 1,700 Reports Of Drug-Exposed Newborns Seen In Mass. Last Year

Massachusetts child welfare officials say they investigated more than 1,700 reports of drug-exposed newborns over the final 10 months of last year.

Over that period, the state saw a more than 40 percent increase in reports of drug-exposed newborns, from 132 instances in March 2014 to 190 in December, according to data provided by the Department of Children and Families. The December total was down from the agency’s peak recording of 236 in September that year.

Experts say it’s a sign of just how dire the state’s opioid epidemic has become.

Jonathan Davis, chief of newborn medicine at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, tells the Boston Herald that Massachusetts hospitals combined used to report two or three drug-exposed babies being born per day, but it’s now more like 10 to 15 per day.

Davis said several initiatives have been created to address the issue, pointing to Project Respect, which provides substance abuse treatment for pregnant women and their newborns at Boston Medical Center and serves more than 150 mother-baby pairs each year.

The state started tracking drug-exposed babies last March.

With reporting by The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom

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Connector Gains New COO, Corner Office Adviser

The Baker administration continues to put its stamp on the state’s Health Connector Authority with the hiring of two top officials.

Vicki Coates, a former vice president of dental management at DentaQuest, starts on Monday as chief operating officer, according to Louis Gutierrez, the authority’s executive director.

Coates has also worked at Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and Metro West Medical Center.

Gutierrez also announced Patricia Wada, who has worked on state information technology projects, will take the job of special assistant to the governor for project delivery. Continue reading

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Gov. Baker Fills 2 Connector Board Seats

After sweeping out four Connector Board members, Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday morning named insurance executive Mark Gaunya and business consultant Rina Vertes to serve on the Massachusetts Connector Authority Board.

Vertes and Gaunya were appointed minutes before a scheduled board meeting and the governor’s office reported they plan to participate in that gathering in Boston.

Gaunya is co-owner and chief information officer at Borislow Insurance. Vertes is president of Marjos Business Consulting.

Baker during the 2014 campaign for governor complained that there had been no major personnel changes at the Connector Authority despite major problems with the rollout of an expensive website intended to help people comply with requirements of the new federal insurance law.

“Our administration believes these health care professionals with decades of experience will continue the turnaround effort of the Connector, and provide the people of Massachusetts with an efficient, well run exchange,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said in a statement.

Gaunya is filling a seat reserved for a member of the broker community on the 11-member board, with Vertes taking a seat set aside for a health insurance actuary. Continue reading

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Gov. Baker Forces Resignation Of 4 Health Connector Board Members

Gov. Charlie Baker sought and received the resignations of four member of the state’s Health Connector board, including MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who came under fire for saying it was “the stupidity of the American voter” that led to the passage of President Obama’s 2010 heath care law.

The move helps Baker consolidate his authority over the agency responsible for helping Massachusetts residents find affordable health care plans.

Gruber became a political lightening rod following his comments and was chastised by opponents of the law. He was called to testify before Congress in December, when he told lawmakers he was “inexcusably arrogant” when he made the statement.

Besides Gruber, Baker also asked for the resignations of board members George Gonser, John Bertko and Rick Jakious — all appointees of former Gov. Deval Patrick. Continue reading