Advocates hail AG Maura Healey’s efforts to improve mental health parity; insurers argue laws remain ambiguous

Attorney General Maura Healey announced settlements resolving allegations that three health insurance companies — Harvard Pilgrim, Fallon and AllWays Health Partners — violated the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. She also announced agreements to improve behavioral health access with four other companies: Beacon Health Strategies, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Optum and Tufts Health Plan.

Sen. Cindy Friedman, who has spoken out about her efforts to get mental health treatment for her family, applauded Healey’s office for addressing what she called a lack of parity compliance.

Friedman also said the agreements help make the case that the Legislature should pass the Senate’s own parity bill, the Mental Health ABC Act, that passed earlier this month. “I’m hopeful that the Legislature will recognize the seriousness and urgency of the issue highlighted by the attorney general today and take appropriate action this session,” she said in a statement.

Read more

Philly to open country’s first safe injection facility. Could Mass. be next?

BOSTON — As Philadelphia announced it will open the country’s first safe injection site in South Philly, legislation is underway at the State House to open sites in Massachusetts.

“I think it’s good news and I’m glad the city is moving forward on a safe injection facility,” said Senator Cindy Friedman. Friedman served on the state’s task force studying safe injection sites. She says while she’s happy Philly is opening a facility, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re much closer to getting one in Mass.

“I think it will be a great test for everybody. I’m not sure it will have a huge influence on Massachusetts because I know that our U.S. Attorney has vowed that he won’t be swayed by the decision,” she said.

Read more

‘Mental health needs to be for everyone’: Massachusetts Senate passes bill to improve behavioral health care access

The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill that would bring the state closer to providing behavioral health services that are as accessible as physical health care.

For its lead proponents, the legislation was personal. Sen. Cindy Friedman, who authored the bill with Cyr, said she found the mental health system to be disconnected, difficult and costly as she sought treatment for her child.

The bill’s passage comes as Gov. Charlie Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders promote their own health care bill, which calls for increased spending on primary, geriatric and behavioral health care services.

Read more

Go the distance for mental health parity

Mental health parity — treating mental and physical illnesses with equal seriousness, concern, and coverage — has been the law of the land for decades. But changing laws is easy; changing actual clinical practice and the health care system that supports it is far more difficult. This week the Massachusetts Senate is scheduled to vote on a package of legislation aimed at bringing actual practice into the 21st century .

“Our system is broken,” said Senator Cindy Friedman, cochair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “Mental health has long been treated as the stepchild of the health care system.”

But breaking that pattern won’t be easy. Friedman cites the problem of children with acute mental illness who may be “boarded” in an emergency room for weeks. But that problem won’t be solved by having a psychiatrist on call or an insurance company that won’t balk at paying the bill without prior authorization.

Read more

Tele-psychiatry, emergency care coverage, licensing changes: Mass. Senate adds mental health bill to the mix

State senators on Thursday introduced a bill that would require that patients suffering acute mental health symptoms get treatment without waiting for prior authorization, roll out a pilot program for tele-psychiatry in schools and implement other reforms to improve access to behavioral health services.

“Mental health care has long been treated as the lesser step-child of the health care system,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman, an Arlington Democrat and one of the authors of the bill. Friedman, who has spoken out about her child’s mental health treatment, described the system as disconnected, difficult and expensive in its current form. “For many families with loved ones in need of mental health care, finding that care is impossible,” she said.

Read more

Senate Leaders Plan to Tackle Natural Gas Bill

Natural gas safety and infrastructure won’t be part of the suite of climate policy bills the Senate is debating Thursday, but a handful of senators said leadership has pledged to bring a separate gas safety bill to the floor later this session. Senators withdrew their natural gas-related amendments from consideration Thursday afternoon, telling their colleagues and the public that they are satisfied with the commitment from Senate President Karen Spilka and others to address the state’s gas infrastructure in standalone legislation.

“I am really pleased the Senate president, the chair of Ways and Means and the senator I share Lexington with have agreed to do a natural gas bill to address all the issues that come up in these amendments,” Sen. Cindy Friedman said as she withdrew an amendment that would have established gas worker and safety reforms.

Read more

Suit says civilly committed man denied medical care

The lawsuit comes amid heightened scrutiny of the care provided to people in the Department of Correction’s custody. It also raises continuing questions about the propriety of holding men who are civilly committed because they pose a danger to themselves or others due to substance use – and who are not incarcerated for committing any crime – in a facility run by the state Department of Correction rather than by public health officials.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Cindy Friedman of Arlington and Rep. Ruth Balser of Newton would end the practice for men as well. Men were not included in the initial lawsuit, so they were also left out of the legislation that Baker signed. Today, civilly committed men are split between facilities run by the Department of Public Health, the Department of Correction and, in western Massachusetts, the Hampden County sheriff’s office.

Both Friedman and Balser said they were unaware of specific concerns about medical care at MASAC, but their bills attempt to address the larger issue of whether addiction should be treated as a disease or as a crime. Friedman called it “the criminalization of an illness” to confine people for substance-use treatment in a jail setting.

Read more

How Massachusetts became a national leader on health care — and how it can lead again

Massachusetts has been a clear leader when it comes to health care coverage, and as a result, outpaces other states in health care outcomes. But it has taken a village of health care policymakers, economists, practitioners, community leaders, and legislators to create an insurance coverage system that not only works, but that also rises above partisan acrimony.

Another area where the state’s performance leaves a lot to be desired is access to behavioral and mental health and drug use disorder services, with many providers refusing insurance for behavioral health at the current reimbursement rates.

“The first thing we have to do for mental health and substance use disorders is raise the rates that we pay to providers for the service. They are extremely low and it’s just forcing people out of the system,” says state senator Cindy Friedman. The second thing, she says, is integrating behavioral health into primary care. “We have to stop carving out mental health. As long as we treat it as a stepchild or a separate piece of health care, it will be so difficult to get to.”

Read more

Haggerty, Ciccolo, Friedman Pass Nicky’s Law

BOSTON – Last week, Representative Michelle Ciccolo (D-Lexington) and Representative Rich Haggerty (D-Woburn), along with their colleagues in the House of Representatives, unanimously passed legislation to create a registry of care providers who harmed a person or persons with an intellectual or developmental disability. The bill had previously passed the Senate unanimously with the support of Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington) on Oct. 17, 2020.

“It is unconscionable that we do not have laws on the books to adequately protect disabled persons in Massachusetts who experience harm by their own caretakers,” said Senator Friedman. “The Legislature has shown its commitment to protecting our state’s disabled population by passing this important legislation, which would make it much easier to identify abusive caretakers in our communities. This is a commonsense step that will make an enormous impact on our families, friends and neighbors throughout the Commonwealth.”

Read more

State seeks to rein in largely unregulated urgent care industry

For years, the urgent care industry has grown rapidly, with walk-in clinics popping up across Massachusetts to treat patients with colds, infections, cuts, sprains, and other common ailments. Yet the industry remains largely unregulated. Urgent care has become a common term in health care — but it has no state definition in Massachusetts, making these centers difficult if not impossible to monitor, according to state officials.

“Our goal is to provide high-quality, affordable, and accessible health care to everyone in the Commonwealth,” Senator Cindy F. Friedman, cochair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, said in a statement. “Urgent care centers provide this kind of health care to our residents — so yes, they too should be subject to regulations and oversight.”

Read more