BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled a bill Tuesday that he said would help expand access to primary care and mental health services and help control rising health care and prescription drug costs.
The Republican detailed the legislation during a stop at a health care center in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston.
Baker said the state has some unfinished business when it comes to expanding health care access in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the bill aims to increase investments in behavioral health care services, control factors that drive up health care costs and improve access to high quality coordinated care for people dealing with multiple health care challenges.
“The pandemic demonstrated that while our health care system does many thing very well — and thankfully we all saw that first hand every single day — we still have a number of significant issues and problems we need to solve,” he said.
One of the top remaining challenges is making sure that those in need of behavioral health care services are treated on par with those with physical health care needs.
The bill would require health care providers and payers to increase expenditures on primary care and behavioral health by 30% over three years, with the initial performance period ending in 2024.
“I don’t think I’ve found anybody in Massachusetts who thinks we have enough people playing in the behavioral health space to take care of the people who are trying to access services,” Baker said, adding that the state “had issues with respect to access to those services before the pandemic.”
Amy Rosenthal, executive director of the nonprofit Health Care For All, welcomed the bill, saying it could help increase access to drugs by lowering costs.
“We need to rein in rising prescription drug prices so that individuals and families can afford their treatments and are not forced to choose between putting food on the table or paying for their medications,” Rosenthal said in a written statement.
The Massachusetts Senate in November unanimously approved their own bill that would guarantee Massachusetts residents are eligible for annual mental health wellness exams at no cost — akin to annual physical exams.
The sweeping bill, which passed on a 39-0 vote, would create an online portal to help smooth the transition from emergency to longer-term care and dedicate $122 million to support nearly 2,000 behavioral professionals. It would also enforce existing mental health parity laws, which are intended to ensure that insurance coverage for mental health care is equal to insurance coverage for other medical conditions.
The bill has been sent to the Massachusetts House.
The legislature’s formal session ends July 31.