Expanding Health Care Access in Massachusetts ~ IN YOUR CORNER with SENATOR DIZOGLIO

By: Senator Diana DiZoglio – July 2020

Hello Valley Patriot Readers,

Now more than ever, it is important that we explore new ways to make our health care system more affordable and accessible for Massachusetts residents.

In that spirit, the Massachusetts Senate recently passed the Patients First Act, comprehensive health care legislation to increase access to health care, protect patients, and enhance quality care.

The COVID-19 emergency has shown that telehealth – medical care through phone or videoconferencing – has the ability to improve efficiency and expand access to care. The Patients First Act removes financial and insurance barriers to telehealth services, requiring insurance carriers, including MassHealth, to cover such services in any case where the same in-person service would be covered. It also ensures that telehealth services include care through audio-only telephone calls and requires telehealth services to be reimbursed at the same level as in-person health care services over the next two years.

The Patients First Act also aims to protect patients by ending the unfair practice of surprise billing.
Out-of-network billing, or “surprise” billing, occurs when patients who have inadvertently received health care services outside of their insurance network receive bills from a provider for costs that the insurance carrier refuses to pay. Patients are often unaware or unable to determine whether a given provider is covered by their health plan prior to a planned procedure, and it can be impossible to avoid uncovered services, especially in emergency situations.

The bill immediately requires health care providers to notify patients of a health care provider’s network status before a non-emergency procedure occurs so that the patient can make an informed decision about where they seek their care.

Currently, Massachusetts lags far behind other states when it comes to expanding the scope of practice for certain health care professionals, hindering patient access to critical care.

Under the bill, nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and psychiatric nurse mental health specialists can practice independently so long as they meet certain education and training standards and practice under physician supervision for at least two years. It also creates a new professional license for “dental therapists” who will be authorized to provide dental hygiene and other oral health services under the supervision of a dentist. These provisions will expand access to care for patients without sacrificing quality or safety.

Over the course of this pandemic, we have learned a lot about different ways to deliver health care. This legislation will use our experiences from these challenging times to protect patients and ensure equitable access to care.

If you have questions about this bill or any other issue – or need assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic – please contact me and my team anytime via email at diana.dizoglio@masenate.gov or phone at 978-984-7747.

Yours in service,

Diana ◊