By Bob Katzen
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THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of February 7-11.
SOLDIERS’ HOMES OVERSIGHT BILL (H 4441)
House 156-1, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would make major changes to the oversight and governance structure of the state’s veterans’ homes in Holyoke and Chelsea. The proposal follows the deaths of 77 veteran residents in 2020 as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke facility.
Key provisions include requiring superintendents of the two soldiers’ homes to be licensed as nursing home administrators and either be a veteran or someone with experience managing veterans in a nursing home or long term-care facility; establishing an ombudsperson for each facility to advocate on behalf of the veterans and staff; requiring the Office of Veterans’ Homes and Housing to submit an annual report including findings on the quality of care provided at the homes at each facility; establishing a 17-member statewide Veterans’ Homes Council to manage and control the homes and confirm and remove superintendents; and establishing the Office of the Veteran Advocate, an independent office that will be led by a person appointed by the governor, attorney general and auditor.
“I believe this comprehensive bill takes the necessary steps to protect deserving Massachusetts veterans,” said Rep. Paul McMurtry ( D-Dedham), House chair of the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee. “It’s not about partisan politics, and it’s certainly not about control. It is first about ensuring that a tragedy like this never happens again and providing our veterans the best possible care we can. I believe this legislation takes the necessary steps forward toward achieving that worthwhile goal.”
“Today, with the best interests of our veterans and their families in mind, the House took action to ensure greater accountability and oversight for veterans’ homes in Massachusetts,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy). “This legislation takes significant steps to change how our veterans’ homes are governed and managed and establishes protocols that are designed to identify and correct any examples of mismanagement or inadequate care as quickly as possible.”
“I don’t think this bill addresses the core concerns of the people who testified before the investigatory committee,” said Rep. Chris Markey (D-Dartmouth) who cast the only “No” vote. “I [favor] a centralized chain of command and a single person who is responsible for the hiring and firing of the superintendent.”
Rep. Linda Dean Campbell (D-Methuen) voted “Present” on the bill. “Like the Inspector General of the commonwealth, I have serious concerns about the new bill,” said Campbell who along with Sen. Mike Rush (D-Boston) last year had filed a different bill that she says was more comprehensive. “The Inspector General has stated in a letter his ‘office finds that the current and proposed structure for the governance and oversight of the homes are flawed,’” said Campbell.
Campbell said that her bill included provisions that are not in the current measure including ones that would have elevated the secretary of veterans’ services to a full Cabinet-level position and given the governor authority to appoint or remove a facility’s superintendent and deputy superintendent based on consultation with other officials.
Campbell continued, “In the original bill filed, we identified qualifications for service on a statewide council with expertise in financial management, health care administration, clinical services, treatment of PTSD and labor relations, among others. Our original bill intends for statewide representation on this council, as these homes are for all veterans in the commonwealth, not just veterans located geographically near to the homes. Accordingly, the original bill also calls for participation by a female veteran, the fastest growing population of any veterans’ group and a member of the LGBTQ veterans’ community, among other veterans’ groups that served in various conflicts. The bill passed by the House … has none of these provisions and no qualifications to serve on this council.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against the bill.)
Rep. Jessica Giannino Yes
DRUG COSTS (S 2651)
Senate 39-1, approved and sent to the House a bill aimed at addressing the high and rapidly increasing costs of prescription drugs in the Bay State. A key provision provides immediate price relief for insulin used by one in ten people living with diabetes who must take it daily or risk major health problems. The measure limits out-of-pocket spending for insulin by eliminating deductibles and coinsurance and capping co-pays at $25 per month. Rising insulin prices have resulted in some people paying out-of-pocket costs of $1,000 or more per year, leading to some patients decreasing their insulin dose or not taking it at all.
Other provisions include requiring pharmaceutical companies to notify the state in advance of new drugs coming to market, and of significant price increases for existing drugs; providing patients with greater access to mail-order prescriptions; and several transparency and accountability mandates.
“This legislation moves the commonwealth one step closer to a system that delivers affordable, high quality and accessible care for our residents,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), Senate chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing. “[The bill] ensures that more consumers can access prescription drugs at a fair price, by capping out-of-pocket insulin costs, providing relief for certain high-cost drugs, improving patient access to medications and pharmacies of their choice and enhancing transparency and oversight within the pharmaceutical industry.”
“Our Helpline takes calls from people across the state who can’t afford their medications,” said Amy Rosenthal, executive director at Health Care For All. “Individuals and families in Massachusetts have been struggling for far too long to access and afford the prescriptions they need, and this legislation provides critical financial relief at a pivotal time,.By passing this bill today, senators took an important step to rein in excessive drug costs, bringing oversight of pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers in line with other health care industries in the state.”
Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton), the only senator to vote against the measure, acknowledged that there are many laudable parts of the bill but criticized parts to which he objected and resulted in his vote against it. “[The bill] unfairly penalizes individuals who receive mail-order prescriptions by raising the cost of their drugs,” said Fattman. “Many people today use mail order prescriptions from pharmacies because of the convenience and the fact that there are certain discounts offered for out-of-pocket costs. The number of people that use this program has increased significantly since the start of the pandemic, as it was seen as a safer and more convenient alternative for many people who wanted to avoid going to the store and being in public. The passage of this bill will force all current mail-order pharmacy patients, many of whom are older or ill, to pay higher out-of-pocket cost because they will not be allowed to take advantage of these discounts. [That provision] is a poison pill, and in good conscience, I can’t vote to increase costs for drugs for those who want them delivered via mail.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against the bill.)
Sen. Lydia Edwards Yes
DRUG COUPONS (S 1651)
Senate 7-31, rejected an amendment extending until 2028 the current law, due to expire in 2023, that allows consumers to use coupons to get discounts and rebates when purchasing prescription drugs. In 2012, Massachusetts was the last state to lift a ban on the use of prescription coupons.
“It’s important that we continue to have this particular tool particularly because it helps those who have high out of pocket costs, which a recent state study concluded are twice the national average and the third-highest in the nation,” said amendment sponsor Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “This amendment helps consumers control their out-of-pocket costs and provides further information for policymakers so we can achieve what is clearly our common objective—reducing the systemic cost of prescription drugs and improving the lives of those who need prescription medicines.”
Amendment opponents said that extending the authorization for prescription drug coupons is typically done through a provision in the annual state budget. They noted they prefer doing it that way because the budget, with the coupon provision, will eventually get to the governor’s desk and be signed into law. They noted that including it as part of a comprehensive drug bill with an uncertain future is not a good idea.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment extending the use of coupons. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Lydia Edwards No
POSSIBLE LICENSING OF PHARMACEUTICAL AND MEDICAL DEVICE SALES REPS (S 1651)
Senate 38-0, approved an amendment that would require the Department of Public Health, in consultation with the attorney general, district attorneys, health care practitioners and patient advocates, to review the existing “gift ban law” which is the marketing code of conduct that bans and limits gifts by pharmaceutical and medical device representatives to physicians. The original ban from 2008 included a ban on the payment and provision of meals to doctors at restaurants and other venues outside of the health care setting. This provision was repealed in 2012 and current law now allows for those meals.
The department’s analysis would include a comparison of the marketing code of conduct rules with similar rules established in other states; a review of any enforcement actions taken for violations of the law; a review of opioid marketing practices and direct impact upon increased substance abuse disorders and related deaths; an assessment of the need and recommendations for implementation, for further requirements to ensure marketing activities by pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers do not influence prescribing patterns in a manner that adversely affects patient care; and requiring the licensing of all pharmaceutical and medical device representatives.
“We license hairstylists to protect the safety and wellbeing of consumers so there really isn’t a legitimate argument against the licensing of pharmaceutical and medical device sales reps marketing life-saving devices and powerful drugs, including opioids,” said amendment sponsor Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Besford) who also had sponsored the first gift ban and licensing bill in 2006. “The corruption of the sacred doctor-patient relationship by the pharmaceutical industry by schmoozing at fancy restaurants is exactly the consequence that the original gift ban law was intended to prevent. Such dinners contribute to the illegitimate relationship between some physicians and [the] industry that can make some doctors feel obliged to prescribe high-cost brand name drugs, even when a cheaper alternative may be more appropriate.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)
Sen. Lydia Edwards Yes
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late-night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.
During the week of February 7-11, the House met for a total of six hours and 26 minutes and the Senate met for a total of four hours and 11 minutes.
Mon. Feb. 7 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:24 a.m.
Senate 11:09 a.m. to 11:26 a.m.
Tues. Feb. 8 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. Feb. 9 House 11:03 a.m. to 12:13 p.m.,
No Senate session
Thurs. Feb. 10 House 11:00 a.m. to 3:54 p.m.
Senate 11:42 a.m. to 3:36 p.m.
Fri. Feb. 11 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org Bob founded Beacon Hill Roll Call in 1975 and was inducted into the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA) Hall of Fame in 2019.