State committee advances slew of health-minded bills

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/4/2020 7:49:59 PM
Modified: 6/4/2020 7:49:49 PM

The state’s Joint Committee on Public Health chaired by Sen. Jo Comerford is pushing bills that protect children’s health, expand MassHealth coverage and facilitate access to emergency care.

According to Comerford, D-Northampton, the Community Immunity Act was redrafted to strengthen the state’s vaccination system. The End of Life Options Act also was redrafted to authorize qualified terminally ill people to make their own end-of-life decisions, including how they die.

The committee has reported on 433 pieces of legislation this session, she said.

“The public health committee looked closely at these complex issues for more than a year, and approved measures to keep our commonwealth healthy and thriving,” Comerford said. “I’m proud that our committee worked on and advanced these bills, each of which will make a positive difference for western Massachusetts and the entire state.”

Comerford said she has fought for many other health issues, including ensuring health equity for women, eliminating health disparities, regulating prescription drug marketing and promoting better health care.

Bill S1276/H1850, for instance, would ensure safe patient access to emergency care, Comerford said. The bill would require the Department of Public Health to enact regulations on emergency room accessibility.

H1182 concerns Medicaid coverage for doula services (birth coaches that provide labor support to pregnant women and their families). The bill directs MassHealth to cover their services and create a Doula Care Commission. It also extends doula services to those most in need and helps address disparities in maternal mortality, she said.

When it comes to end-of-life issues, the redraft of S1208/H1926, Comerford said, would allow patients with terminal illness to choose a peaceful death with dignity and allow doctors to support them through aid in dying. At the same time, it would establish a rigorous process for patients and their doctors to follow with layers of safeguards to protect vulnerable people from coercion.

Comerford said the committee’s redraft of H1942 would protect children from harmful diet pills and muscle-building supplements — many of whom are vulnerable to body image issues — by preventing such items from being sold to minors.

The committee also redrafted a bill, S2359/H4096, that promotes community immunity. Comerford said COVID-19 has shown the importance of vaccines in protecting communities across the state. The state’s current immunization system is fragmented, she said, and several areas have reported vaccination rates lower than needed to provide “herd immunity.”

“This bill, known as the Community Immunity Act, gives the Department of Public Health the authority to oversee a uniform process for tracking immunizations and exemptions,” she said.

Comerford explained the new process would lift the burden from individual schools and programs to ensure communities are protected.

The Department of Public Health maintains an immunization registry to protect communities throughout the state. Information, according to Comerford, is not currently shared with health plans that could help encourage their members to get vaccinated through health behavior incentive programs. She said the bill would allow immunization information to be released to health plans.

The bills will now move to either another committee for additional review or to the House or Senate for a vote. Once a bill has passed the House and Senate, it goes to Gov. Charlie Baker to be signed into law.




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