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.”

Read more

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.

Read more

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.”

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

‘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.

Read more

Mass. Panel Recommends One Or More Supervised Consumption Sites To Reduce Opioid OD Deaths

Massachusetts should test the use of clinics where drug users can shoot up or inhale drugs, and be revived by medical staff if needed, because such clinics save lives. That’s the gist of a recommendation to state lawmakers that will be included in a report due later this week.

State Sen. Cindy Friedman said many people aren’t convinced that bringing illegal drug activity into a medical clinic is a legitimate way to fight drug use. Friedman supports the idea but said candidly that she still wrestles with it herself.

“I’m not necessarily comfortable with safe consumption sites, it doesn’t exactly fit in with my repertoire,”Friedman said after the commission meeting where she proposed the final language for the recommendation. “It isn’t about me. It’s about what is going to work to address this emergency.”

Read more

A single comment made Mayor Walsh rethink supervised injection sites

Boston Globe

Now a member of the state’s Harm Reduction Commission, charged with recommending new ways to tackle addiction and the opioid crisis, [Marty] Walsh recently traveled to Montreal and Toronto in January with Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern and toured injection sites in both cities. He came back largely convinced that operating supervised injection sites responsibly and without neighborhood chaos was at least possible, and worth a very close look for Boston.

“Having sat with him on the committee, I’ve experienced an opening, a willingness, to engage in the conversation. And a real effort to understand something that is foreign to a lot of people,” said Cindy Friedman, a state senator from Arlington who serves with Walsh on the Harm Reduction Commission. “He opened himself up…That’s what it means to take this epidemic seriously.”

Read more

Mass. lawmakers want to extend antidiscrimination laws to venture capitalists

Boston Globe

Massachusetts law prohibits workplace harassment and discrimination. But there’s a loophole: Those laws generally don’t apply to perpetrators who are investors, or potential investors, in a company.

That can be a problem for workers in a significant swath of Boston’s booming economy. In technology, biotech, and other fields seeded by venture capital and private equity, outside investors hold extraordinary power over the careers of entrepreneurs, who have little recourse if they’re mistreated.

Now, a group of lawmakers on Beacon Hill is pushing legislation that would subject investors to the same civil discrimination and harassment laws that apply to employers. The bill’s lead sponsor, State Senator Cindy F. Friedman, an Arlington Democrat, noted that the vast majority of venture capital in the United States now goes to white, male founders.

Read more

Harassment in venture-capital industry targeted

BOSTON — A state senator is looking to amend the laws protecting against discrimination and harassment in the workplace to ensure they cover entrepreneurs seeking funds to start a business. 

The #metoo movement and other instances of women sharing stories of their experiences have prompted a new focus on sexual harassment in industries from Hollywood to restaurants to politics and pushed many workplaces, including the state Legislature, to revisit their policies on reporting and preventing harassment. 

Friedman, an Arlington Democrat, said she spoke with constituents who are active in the venture capital community and have experienced harassment. She decided to tackle the issue, filing a bill to broaden the state law prohibiting harassment and discrimination against employees.

Read more