Politics

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

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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

Partners HealthCare Drops Bid To Acquire South Shore Hospital

Partners HealthCare is withdrawing its bid to acquire South Shore Hospital, state Attorney General Maura Healey’s office announced Tuesday.

The move comes less than a month after a judge rejected a deal Partners had struck with former Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office that would have allowed Partners to acquire South Shore and two other local hospitals in exchange for some limits on price and staff increases.

In a statement Healey’s office said the state would continue to evaluate Partners’ bid to acquire Hallmark Health Corp.’s Lawrence Memorial and Melrose-Wakefield hospitals “if and when Partners and Hallmark complete pending federal regulatory obligations.”

“We appreciate the thoughtful process that Partners engaged in while making this important decision, and believe it is the right choice for Partners and the Commonwealth,” Healey, who opposed the deal Partners had reached with Coakley, said in the statement. “We are thankful for the valuable input that was provided by the health care community throughout this process to help reach this result.”

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Groups Resist Baker Push On MassHealth

Updated at 4:30 p.m.

BOSTON — Groups representing people dependent on state health insurance programs are resisting Gov. Charlie Baker’s push for authority to make major changes in the MassHealth program.

Advocacy groups on Monday were delivering letters to Baker administration officials and legislative leaders expressing opposition to powers sought by Baker in his emergency legislation (H 49) to balance the state budget. Baker has requested authority to restructure MassHealth benefits “to the extent permitted by federal law.” Continue reading

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Gov. Baker Names 2 Top State Health Care Officials

Gov. Charlie Baker has tapped two top health care officials.

Baker announced Thursday that Louis Gutierrez will serve as executive director of the Massachusetts Health Connector, which oversees the state’s health insurance marketplace and website.

Baker also appointed Daniel Tsai as assistant secretary for MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program.

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Welcome, Attorney General Healey. What Are You Going To Do About Partners?

It’s swearing in day for Maura Healey, Attorney General. (Steven Senne/AP)

It’s swearing in day for Maura Healey, Attorney General. (Steven Senne/AP)

Maura Healey will inherit several thorny issues Wednesday as she becomes the next state attorney general. Near the top of her list: the agreement that would let Partners HealthCare acquire at least three more hospitals in exchange for some limits on price and staff increases.

During the campaign, Healey raised questions about whether the deal was enough, both in scope and in duration.

So now that she’s in charge, will she urge Judge Janet Sanders to approve the agreement, suggest changes, or start over? In an interview before her swearing-in, WBUR’s Bob Oakes put these questions to Healey. Here’s the sum total of her response:

This is a matter that I’m reviewing and being briefed on now. The perspective I come from, as attorney general, is to drive down health care costs. So I’m considering my options. Right now, the matter is before the court, as you say. There was a proposed consent judgement filed, and we’ll just have to see on that.

In short, stay tuned.

Sanders suggested back in November, at the last hearing on the Partners deal, that she’d like to speak to Healey before issuing a ruling. She may also be waiting for Partners to name a new CEO, a decision some sources expect in the next four or five weeks. Sanders could call the parties in for a status conference at any time. Healey and Partners have that option as well.

Who will make the next move? Any bets?

You can hear all of Bob’s conversation with the new AG here.

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Gov. Patrick Announces $1M Grant To Help Develop Faster Ebola Test

Dr. Rick Sacra, a Massachusetts doctor who contracted the Ebola virus in Liberia, and Gov. Deval Patrick converse Tuesday at the State House. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

Dr. Rick Sacra, a Massachusetts doctor who contracted the Ebola virus in Liberia, and Gov. Deval Patrick converse Tuesday at the State House. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, a quasi-public agency, will issue a $1 million grant to help develop a faster, more accurate test for diagnosing Ebola, Gov. Deval Patrick announced Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, a Massachusetts doctor who had Ebola announced he’s returning to Liberia, where he contracted the virus, to resume his work.

The grant will support a partnership of local life sciences companies, nonprofits and academic institutions that will try to speed up the launch of an Ebola detection tool already in development by Diagnostics For All, a nonprofit organization.

Officials on hand for the State House announcement promised the new tool — which will accept a “single finger-stick of blood” and provide a clear “yes” or “no” response in 45 minutes — will be cheaper, easier to use and lead to earlier diagnosis than current tests.

They said current tests are time- and labor-intensive and not always sensitive enough to detect Ebola at its earliest onset, which they said is critical to containing and effectively treating the disease. Continue reading

Brigham And Women’s Vivek Murthy Confirmed To U.S. Surgeon General Post

A Brigham and Women’s physician will become the next U.S. surgeon general.

Democrats squeaked out a 51-43 vote Monday to confirm Dr. Vivek Murthy, 37, in the waning days of their control over the U.S. Senate.

Dr. Vivek Murthy is an internist at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. His nomination for U.S. surgeon general has stalled, largely due to his advocacy of gun control. (Charles Dharapak/AP/File)

Dr. Vivek Murthy (Charles Dharapak/AP/File)

Murthy’s nomination stalled earlier this year when the National Rifle Association raised objection to Murthy’s characterization of guns as a health issue. Murthy said he would focus on childhood obesity, not guns, if approved as the nation’s top doctor. Many public health leaders and physicians fumed about the NRA’s influence, but the White House did not press for a vote and many of Murthy’s supporters assumed the nomination was dead.

Then on Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, using a procedural move, put Murthy’s nomination back in play. And on Monday he was approved by a single vote majority a year after being nominated and 17 months after the position was vacated.

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