On Monday, the United States Senate released their proposal for the next coronavirus relief legislation, the HEALS Act, a $1 trillion relief bill that provides funding for another stimulus check, liability protections for companies that bring workers back to the office during the pandemic, and child care investments.
Last week was a busy week on Beacon Hill. The Massachusetts Legislature adopted an order that will allow for Formal Sessions to continue through the end of 2020. The House adopted an order on Wednesday, the Senate amended that order on Thursday, and the House concurred with the Senate amended version. The order suspends Joint Rule 12A, the rule that requires the Legislature to conclude Formal Sessions on July 31, in the 2nd year of the 2-year session. The Legislature intends to continue Formal Sessions in the coming months, noting their need to enact the FY2021 Budget as well as many other pressing issues (police reform, healthcare, economic development), as well as any additional items that may arise in light of the current public health crisis.
The Massachusetts House passed an Economic Development Bill, H4887 – An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth, which includes in Section 101A, language to extend the copay sunset by 2-years to 2023. The current law that allows drug manufacturers to provide commercially insured patients cost-sharing assistance through coupons or vouchers is set to sunset on January 1, 2021. The Massachusetts Senate passed their own Economic Development bill (Senate Bill 2842), which does not include this language. A House/Senate Conference Committee was appointed to iron out the differences in these bills and will determine whether language relative to this issue is included.
The House also passed a healthcare bill, H4916, An Act Putting Patients First. This legislation is limited in scope, mainly focused on telehealth services. It also looks to extend emergency orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic relative to testing and treatment for the coronavirus, out-of-network rates, and temporary licenses for certain health care workers. The Senate passed its healthcare bill in June and a Conference Committee has also been appointed to work out a compromise bill.
Also last week, the Senate engrossed S2843, An Act Relative to Step Therapy and Patient Safety. This bill requires MassHealth and private insurers to expeditiously grant requests for step therapy protocol exceptions in certain enumerated situations, and when granting a step therapy exception, to authorize coverage for the drug prescribed by an individual’s health care provider. The bill requires that insurers have clear and accessible step therapy exception request processes and includes timelines and protections for urgent requests. The bill also includes reporting requirements and establishes a Step Therapy Protocols Commission within the Division of Insurance to study and assess the implementation of the step therapy reforms.
Finally, the House and Senate passed a $16.53 billion interim budget to keep state government running through October, giving lawmakers extra time to figure out where the state stands in terms of tax collections amid so many pandemic-era uncertainties.
Beginning Saturday, all travelers entering Massachusetts from certain states, including residents returning home and incoming college students, must comply with the Governor’s new Executive Order requiring mandatory quarantine or testing requirements. Under the order, those arriving in Massachusetts will need to fill out a form summarizing their travel, then either self-isolate for 14 days or provide negative COVID-19 test results that are at most 72 hours old. Failure to comply will result in fines of up to $500 per day. The restrictions do not apply to travelers coming from states with a daily case rate of less than six people per 100,000 and a positive test rate below 5 percent, each on a rolling seven-day average.
On Tuesday, Health Policy Commission (HPC) Executive Director David Seltz will present the findings and recommendations from the HPC’s recent prescription drug coupon study, which analyzes the use and impact of pharmaceutical manufacturer-issued coupons on health care spending and costs at a virtual Massachusetts Health Council meeting.
Also this week, the United States Senate is expected to begin debate on coronavirus legislation.