Drug companies face scrutiny from Mass. lawmakers looking to lower cost

Members of the Health Care Financing Committee on Thursday pressed pharmaceutical industry representatives to identify ways drug manufacturers can help bring more transparency to their pricing and lower costs for consumers.

“You all have had a long time to be transparent,” Sen. Cindy Friedman, the committee’s Senate chair, said. “Pharmaceutical companies have had a long time to come to the table and say let us be as transparent as our insurance companies are and as all the other parts of health care that we patrol. You have had that opportunity, and you haven’t done it. With all due respect, we want you at the table but we need you to be equal partners and be willing to understand that you have skin in the game, we have skin in the game, everybody in this room does.”

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With health care bill, Baker is diving into a policy fight he knows well

After closed-door talks crumbled last summer, Beacon Hill is hitting reset on its pursuit of sweeping health care legislation, with one major difference: This time, Governor Charlie Baker, a former health insurance executive, will push his own plan.

Last session, the Senate was first to craft health care legislation, which sought to bolster community hospitals by setting a “floor” for the payments they receive from insurers, while penalizing big teaching hospitals if spending grew too fast.

Benson said she’s “not married” to relying on assessments to deliver funds for community hospitals. Friedman said she has not settled on an approach, either, though she cautioned that the needs of community hospitals — which often struggle to compete with Boston’s big teaching hospitals — should be addressed. “They play too big of a role in serving the neediest and most vulnerable. We cannot ignore them,” Friedman said.

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Pharma firms spend millions lobbying as Mass. lawmakers consider price controls

Pharmaceutical companies are spending millions on lobbying as lawmakers consider a bundle of bills that address rising prescription drug costs and transparency.

“Drugs are a huge contributor to health care costs, and it’s becoming, as many other parts of health care, more and more of a crisis in terms of people’s ability to pay for their health care,” state Sen. Cindy Friedman told the Herald. “We need to start with much more transparency around drug pricing, the true cost of bringing drugs to market and how those true costs relate to the cost of our drugs.”

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Mental illness and crime: Lawmakers finally focusing on population often served last

BOSTON – Massachusetts legislators involved in serious reforms of the current criminal justice are finally prioritizing those who are often served last: individuals with mental illnesses and disabilities.

Sen. Cindy Friedman, D-Arlington, is also working to boost protections for the mentally ill community. One bill Friedman is presenting would establish a criminal justice and community support trust fund, which would support jail diversion programs for those with mental illnesses or substance use disorders, develop training programs for law enforcement in mental health crisis response and create ongoing community services. Another would encourage courts to direct people battling addiction toward treatment, rather than incarceration.

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Senate passes legislation to ban conversion therapy, “Lift the Cap” on kids, and protect women’s health

BOSTON – On March 28, the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation that reaffirms the Commonwealth’s commitment to providing support for women, members of the LGBTQ community, and children and families in need. The Senate also gave final approval to a $135.9 million supplemental budget for the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19).

“The Senate showed its strong commitment today to our children and families, LGBTQIA+ community, and women by repealing an outdated policy that hurts families, banning an ineffective, inhumane and morally wrong therapy practice, and protecting vital access to family planning and reproductive healthcare services for over 75,000 residents.” said Senator Friedman (D-Arlington). “I’m grateful for Senate President Spilka and my Senate colleagues for keeping these initiatives at the forefront of our legislative agenda this session.”

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Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators Ushers in a New Session

BOSTON – The 191st legislative session of the Massachusetts General Court is underway on Beacon Hill with a record number of women represented in the first year class. The House of Representatives welcomes 12 women among its 23 new legislators. In the Senate, 3 of the 5 newly elected Senators are women. The Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators, a bicameral and bipartisan group of legislators, is chaired this session by Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington) and Representative Liz Malia (D-Boston).

“As Senate chair of the caucus, I look forward to working with caucus members to push our agenda forward and elevate important issues that impact the well-being of women across the Commonwealth,” said Senator Friedman. “I am encouraged and hopeful that we can build on the success of last session to accomplish many of our shared goals this session.”  

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Letter to the Editor: Social workers key to addressing opioid crisis

There is a rising need for social workers in Middlesex County and throughout Massachusetts to help us manage the most pressing public health problem we face today – the opioid crisis.

In 2017, there were 357 opioid-related overdose deaths in Middlesex County, more than any other county in Massachusetts. There is an urgent need to address this crisis – and social workers are an integral part of the solution. 

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Legislators seek to bar judges from sending drug users who relapse to jail

Last summer, the state’s highest court ruled that judges could continue to order jail time for defendants who violate probation by using drugs, dismaying public health advocates and addiction specialists who had hoped to revolutionize the way the criminal justice system treats people with substance use disorders.

Now, they are asking the Legislature to do what the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court would not: Prevent courts from incarcerating defendants who are in treatment and fail a mandatory drug test while on probation.

“Given what we know about substance use disorder and how relapse is very often part of the trajectory of treatment, the thought of someone going to jail for failing a drug test just felt very egregious to me,” said state Senator Cindy F. Friedman, an Arlington Democrat who sponsored the legislation.

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‘I just can’t go to any more funerals;’ Supervised injection sites in Massachusetts pushed as practical plan for fighting overdoses

A panel of experts on opioid addiction treatment urged lawmakers this week to push for drug consumption sites in Massachusetts, an idea that Gov. Charlie Baker has said he will not pursue because such sites are “illegal under federal law.”

The panel included representatives from Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Medical Center and certified recovery coaches, and officials discussed personal experiences before taking questions from the audience about the next steps to address the opioid epidemic and its deadly toll.

Sen. Cindy Friedman said the first step is to get the Legislature on board with safe injection sites, then deal with the governor. Panelists also discussed increasing access to fentanyl strips, and in general, working to reduce stigma.

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Senate Passes Fiscal Year 2019 Supplemental Budget

BOSTON – On March 7, Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) joined her colleagues in passing a supplemental budget for Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19), which includes $143.9 million in spending to address deficiencies, as well as implement policy and spending items that are time-sensitive. The proposal is $21.4 million less than what Governor Baker originally proposed in January.

“This supplemental budget takes vital steps to provide important protections for our children and families, low-income residents, and sexual assault survivors,” said Senator Friedman, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I want to thank Chairman Rodrigues for pushing this supplemental budget forward in a fiscally responsible manner while upholding our values in the Senate to ensure that every family has equitable access to critical benefits and resources.”

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