Access to Medical Care
As a former health care professional, one of my priorities in the legislature is to advocate for and protect the needs of health care consumers both in Hampshire County and throughout Massachusetts. During the Healthcare Reform debate, I was a member of the Joint Committee on Health Care Finance and was one of the legislators closely involved in crafting that landmark law. As a result of that effort, over 300,000 individuals in Massachusetts have become insured and I remain committed to ensuring that all Massachusetts residents receive affordable, quality healthcare.
To ensure the continued success of health care reform, I have filed legislation to expand access to health care services and to make care more accessible, cost efficient and affordable.
- I have introduced legislation this session that will ensure insurance coverage for treatment of patients with mitochondrial disease and with craniofacial disorders. I firmly believe that covering some genetic disorders and birth defects but not others is unconscionable. Why should some families have to deal with massive costs on top of the inherent challenges of these chronic conditions while other families receive full insurance coverage for similar disorders? This legislative session, we saw a monumentous step in the right direction when we extended coverage to individuals with cleft lip and cleft palate. Now we must move forward on this progress by extending coverage to all craniofacial disorders.
- I am the lead sponsor for legislation to make healthcare more affordable. As it currently stands, the definition of “affordability” only takes into account only the cost of health insurance premiums while excluding other real costs such as co-pays and deductibles. This bill would expand the definition of affordability to accurately reflect all health care costs consumers face, guaranteeing that the coverage Massachusetts residents obtain coverage is truly affordable to them.
- I am sponsoring three pieces of legislation, which would set standards for health care facilities and hospice programs to return certain unused pharmaceutical drugs and detail the establishment and operation of a drug repository program for returned pharmaceuticals. These bills are all aimed at reducing the high cost of prescription drugs, increasing patients access to the drugs they need, and ensuring patient safety throughout the process.
I currently serve as the House Chair of the first Oral Health Legislative Caucus in the nation. The Caucus’ mission is to educate the members of the Legislature on the importance of good oral health, its connection to overall health, and to develop legislative and budgetary strategies to create and improve oral health policy. Since the Caucus’ inception, it has successfully advocated for a variety of legislation aiming to increase access to and improve oral health in Massachusetts. This session, I have filed legislation to require Commonwealth Care to provide dental coverage to all enrolled individuals, legislation to restore adult dental in Masshealth, and legislation that would fluoride varnish service- an extremely effective preventative measure- in all health insurance coverage. During this budget cycle, we successfully began the process of incremental restoration with coverage for front teeth fillings.
In addition to working to expand dental benefits, the Caucus has successfully worked to create and fund a pilot program to provide oral health screenings, education and care to preschool aged children living in Hampden County. I am proud of the accomplishments of the Caucus thus far and look forward to creating strong, innovative public policy to protect and enhance the oral health of the people of the Commonwealth.
I am continually searching for sound means to develop and strengthen the economy. Representing the second Hampshire District, I am also dedicated to bolster the economy of the Pioneer Valley in order to keep our communities strong and competitive.
- In order for Massachusetts to remain a leader in emerging technologies and scientific innovation, I have supported the efforts to create incentives for the life sciences industry to expand its presence in the Commonwealth. These efforts have resulted in $187 million of state funds, leveraging another $704 million in matching investments and the potential for over 6,400 jobs. In addition to strengthening our economy by attracting new businesses, increasing revenue and investment, and increasing trade to international markets, the advancements in medicine through these investments can lead to the creation of new cures and effective treatments of disabling, chronic diseases. To this end, I sponsored a regional forum for Western Massachusetts life sciences industry leaders to identify available funding resources and other supports for these companies.
- Western Massachusetts is also becoming a leader in the research and development of clean energy and alternative fuels. Whether it is efforts of Qteros in Chicopee which utilizes the “Q microbe” to turn plants and waste into fuel for cars, FloTurbine in Wilbraham which has developed a pioneering, compact wind turbine shaped like a jet engine, or International Paper Products in Westfield which produces a clean alternative energy fuel product that is greenhouse gas friendly, some of the most promising technologies and innovations in energy are happening in the Pioneer Valley, and I am supportive of these efforts.
- Recognizing the importance of a well-trained workforce, I have worked with a number of manufacturers, health care providers, and education leaders to ensure that we have the resources needed to prepare our young people to meet the needs of this ever-changing workforce. Working with the Regional Employment Board, career centers, vocational schools and higher education institutions, we can meet the needs of our employers by offering students the skills they need to succeed in 21st century jobs.
- I am also currently sponsoring legislation to ensure all job openings with the Commonwealth will be publicly posted so that all Massachusetts residents can readily learn about these opportunities and more easily apply for one of these job openings.
Ensuring that every child in Massachusetts receives a quality education throughout their academic careers is, and will continue to be, one of my top priorities. It is crucial for public schools to receive the necessary funding to keep class sizes down, provide an enriching, comprehensive curriculum, retain highly qualified teachers and maintain a safe learning environment.
- While we traditionally have focused on K-12 education, research has shown that children who participate in high-quality early childhood education develop better language skills, score higher in school-readiness tests, and have better social skills and fewer behavioral problems once they enter school. That’s why I voted to enact legislation which would establish the Massachusetts Universal Pre-Kindergarten Program.
- Higher education has never been more important to the future success of young people than it is today. We’re fortunate to have a higher education system in Massachusetts which offers quality, affordable education and I have consistently supported increased funding for our community colleges, state colleges, and the University of Massachusetts as well as their students and employees throughout my tenure in the legislature.
- I had been extensively involved in the legislation to create a learning environment free of bullying. In addition to requiring each school district to develop prevention and intervention plans, the law also updates the definition of bullying to include cyber-bullying, makes reporting mandatory, and requires age-appropriate curricula on bullying for students and professional development for teachers and other staff.
Disability Programs and Services
I believe it is essential that the Commonwealth provide the programs and support necessary for individuals with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to live healthy, happy, and productive lives. Throughout my time in the legislature, I have continuously worked to ensure the Commonwealth has appropriate programs and policies in place to support our state’s disabled communities.
- I am the lead sponsor An Act to Provide Coverage for Hearing Aids, an Act to Provide Hearing Aid Coverage for Persons with Profound Hearing Loss, and An Act to Provide a Hearing Aid Tax Credit. The first bill requires health insurers to provide the same coverage as the Group Insurance Commission, which is full coverage for the first $500 and 80 percent coverage of the next $1,500 in the cost of one aid per hearing impaired ear every 24 months. The second bill requires health insurers to provide the 80 percent coverage of in the full cost of one aid per hearing impaired ear every 24 months for individuals with profound hearing loss, while the Hearing Aid Tax Credit Bill allows a taxpayer (55 years or older) who purchases a hearing aid to receive a tax credit up $500. Currently, only 23% of individuals with hearing loss use hearing aids. The reason why 77% of people with hearing loss go untreated is that, for millions, treatment is financially impossible. 71% of hearing aid purchases do not involve a 3rd party payment, placing the full burden of cost on the consumer.
- In effort to ensure quality care and treatment for individuals with autism or a disorder along the autism spectrum, I am sponsoring a bill that enhances consumer protection for recipients of applied behavioral analysis. This bill was introduced to ensure that practitioners have the requisite training and experience before engaging in independent practice and to establish a set of ethical standards for behavior analysts.
- For the past several years, I have advocated strongly for adequate funding for services for persons with disabilities. Specifically, I have focused on the plight of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and its inability to fully provide case work advocacy, interpretation, and education-related services for consumers. I have also pushed for increased funding for Day and Employment Programs and Family Supports within the Department of Developmental Services to enable persons with developmental disabilities to maximize their potential and become full participants in our society.
Protection of the state’s environment and natural resources is a serious concern of mine. Through ground-breaking legislative efforts, the state has taken enormous strides to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to protect our natural environment, to preserve water quality and to diversify our fuel sources. During my tenure in the legislature, I have proudly led and co-sponsored a variety of environmental legislation, including the historic Global Warming Solutions Act, which boldly set economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions limits up to 25 percent of 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent of those levels by 2050. Furthermore, the bill sets interim targets for 2030 and 2040 to facilitate hitting the 2050 level.
In the previous legislative session, I was the lead sponsor of the bill that was passed into law, which requires coolant and antifreeze to contain a bittering agent so as to render it unpalatable. In addition to this bill, I have also co-sponsored in the current session legislation which would establish responsibility for discarded electronic products; protect the natural and historic resources of the Commonwealth; authorize the establishment of old growth forest reserves; and, improve our recycling efforts.
There are a number of environmental issues that are of particular concern to me for my District and our region. These include forestry practices and clear cutting on state lands, the siting of wind turbines along Mount Tom, the proposed siting and approval of biomass facilities in Western Massachusetts, and addressing solid waste disposal. I am a strong supporter of the innovative technologies which have been proposed for the South Hadley landfill, including the construction of a mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) berm, the placement of on-site solar panels, and the implementation of a methane gas to energy project at the landfill.