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Thursday, June 20 Legislative and Public Health Updates

Dear friends,


I am writing to you today with legislative, public health, and Cambridge updates. 


Table of Contents

  • Legislative Updates

  • Public Health Updates

  • A Glimpse at the Past Week

  • Services and Resources

 

Legislative Updates 


House passes An Act relative to treatments and coverage for substance use disorder and recovery coach licensure (H.4743)

Last Thursday, I voted with my colleagues to pass a wide-ranging bill that seeks to prevent opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts. An Act relative to treatments and coverage for substance use disorder and recovery coach licensure covers the licensure of recovery coaches, makes opioid overdose reversal drugs more accessible, protects harm reduction providers, and removes barriers that birthing people in recovery face at the time they give birth. Among the major provisions of this bill are: 

  • Establishing recovery coach licensure and oversight as well as a mandate to health plans to cover recovery coach services without cost-sharing or prior authorization.

  • Mandating that all health plans cover opioid overdose reversal drugs, such as naloxone, without cost-sharing or prior authorization.

  • Requiring substance use disorder treatment facilities to educate and dispense at least two doses of opioid overdose reversal drugs upon discharge.

  • Protecting public health or harm reduction organizations who provide drug-checking services (such as needle exchanges), as well as individuals who utilize those services, from civil liability and being criminally charged or prosecuted for possession of drug paraphernalia, unlawful possession of controlled substances, and conspiracy to violate the Controlled Substances Act. 

  • Removing “physical dependence upon an addictive drug at birth” from the conditions necessitating a child abuse and neglect report, exempting pregnant people in recovery taking medications prescribed by their doctor from automatic investigation by the Department of Children and Families (DCF).


Several components of my bill I filed this session, An Act relative to reimbursement for recovery peers specialists (H.991), were incorporated into this legislation:

  • Requiring the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) to establish a peer support program to assist and support the well-being of recovery coaches. Peer supporters and recovery specialists are individuals who are in recovery from substance use or co-occurring mental health disorders. 

  • Requiring that BSAS issue a report on barriers to certification, credentialing, and other employment and practice requirements of recovery coaches, and make recommendations to address them.


I also successfully filed Amendment #8, which will require prescribers to be educated on pain treatment, including appropriate non-opioid alternatives to pain treatments, as well as eliminate prior authorization for non-opioid treatments like acupuncture, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. 


I am so proud of the House’s continued leadership in addressing the opioid public health crisis and its efforts to reduce overdose-related deaths. I am grateful to Speaker Ron Mariano, House Ways & Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, and Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery Committee Chair Adrian Madaro for their diligent work on this legislation. You can watch me speak on this legislation on the House floor here from time stamp 35:14-42:40. 


House passes An Act promoting access to midwifery care and out-of-hospital birth options (H.4773)

After chairing the Special Commission on Racial Inequities in Maternal Health last session, I have spent the last year and a half authoring a comprehensive maternal health bill this session. We will be sharing more information about what the bill does next week, so stay tuned! 


Letter to Administration

I was proud to sign onto this letter alongside many of my colleagues in the Legislature calling on the Healey-Driscoll Administration to start the clock for migrants in emergency assistance shelters on June 1. We recently heard from the Administration that eviction notices would start going out in July. We need more time for those in the shelter system to access the resources the Legislature funded in the previous supplemental budget thanks to the leadership of Speaker Mariano and Chair Michlewitz, including funding for workforce training programs, family welcome centers, and resettlement agencies and shelter providers to assist families with rehousing, work authorization, and English language learning. That supplemental budget passed in late April, so families need more time to access these resources to prepare them to transition out of shelter.


 

Public Health Updates 


New Data Shows Hundreds of Thousands of Patients Traveling for Abortion Care

This week, the Guttmacher Institute released data revealing there was a substantial increase in out-of-state travel for abortion care in 2023, with over 171,000 individuals crossing state lines, compared to 73,100 in 2019. This surge coincides with the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022, which led to widespread state-level abortion bans. The data underscores the impact of these restrictions, revealing that of the 1 million clinician-provided abortions in 2023, 171,300 necessitated travel due to limited local availability. The trend highlights significant barriers faced by patients, including financial constraints and logistical challenges, particularly in southern states with increasingly stringent abortion laws. Residents of states like Louisiana, where abortion is prohibited with very few exceptions, were forced to travel to nearby states, including Florida, Illinois, and Georgia. The Guttmacher Institute's findings emphasize the far-reaching implications of state-specific abortion policies, showing how restrictions disproportionately affect individuals beyond their state borders. 


U.S. Surgeon General Calls for Mental Health Warning Labels on Social Media 

The United States Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, issued a call for social media platforms to include a warning label reminding users that social media usage may harm the mental health of children and adolescents. In a guest essay published in the New York Times, Murthy likens the suggestion to warnings on tobacco labels meant to caution consumers against unsafe consumption. The call comes one year after the Surgeon General’s office issued an advisory informing policymakers and families of the links between social media usage and adolescent mental health. Youth today are increasingly facing a mental health crisis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of anxiety and depression more than doubled among youth and remain high today. Studies have suggested that more time on social media platforms may increase the risk of mental health difficulties in youth. Others suggest a more complicated relationship, wherein social media usage may increase anxiety and depression and also have positive impacts on social well-being. Social media usage is ubiquitous among youth, with 90% of teenagers reporting using social media for an average of 4.8 hours daily.


Biden Proposes Dropping Medical Debt From Credit Reports

The Biden-Harris Administration recently proposed a rule to remove medical debt from credit reports by prohibiting health care providers from sharing medical debt with loan providers. If enacted, this rule would eliminate medical debt from the credit reports of over 15 million Americans, resulting in an average credit score increase of 20 points and allowing more people to qualify for car, home, and business loans. In recent years, three national credit reporting agencies — TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian — have dropped medical debt and debt under $500 from credit reports, resulting in an average 30-point credit score increase. The proposed rule would extend similar policies to all credit reporting agencies. This proposal is a part of President Biden’s racial equity plan to help Americans, especially Black Americans, who are more likely to have to take on medical debt, attain financial independence. The rule would be subject to a public comment period, and if approved, would likely not take effect until early 2025.


FDA Approves First Vaccine for Pneumococcal Disease for Older Adults

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new conjugate vaccine developed by Merck for pneumococcal disease. The single-dose vaccine, which will be sold under the name Capvaxive, helps protect patients against infection by the bacteria pneumococcus, which can cause pneumonia, sepsis, and meningitis. Approximately 150,000 Americans are hospitalized with pneumococcal pneumonia every year, and 1 in 20 of those infected die from the disease. Capvaxive protects against the 21 pneumococcus strains that cause 84% of cases in adults over 50. Capvaxive is the first vaccine for pneumococcal disease specifically designed for older adults. The vaccine’s future now lies with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is expected to meet on June 27 to discuss recommendations for Capavaxive adoption for the general public.


First Case of H5N2 Bird Flu Identified in Humans

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported the first-ever confirmed case of H5N2 in humans. H5N2, also known as avian influenza A, is a type of bird flu that differs from the strain of bird flu spreading among dairy cows in the United States. The individual infected was a 59-year-old man in Mexico who succumbed to his H5N2 infection in April of this year. Before his death, the man was suffering from other health issues and then developed fever, shortness of breath, nausea, and diarrhea, attributed as symptoms of his H5N2 infection. Scientists who confirmed the man’s infection still have not identified how the man was exposed to the virus. Various viruses within the H5N2 family have circulated among poultry and wild birds in Mexico for the last thirty years, but the WHO has confirmed the infected individual had no history of exposure to poultry or other animals. Public health officials highlight that H5 viruses usually struggle to infect humans and that scientists need to conduct more genetic testing on the H5N2 virus that infected the man in Mexico before determining if this bird flu strain threatens humans. 


 

A Glimpse at the Past Week (and a very busy Saturday)



On Saturday, I attended Hold Their Hands: Centering Black Fatherhood Father’s Day brunch. The brunch centered on Black women’s maternal health and mortality through the lens of Black fatherhood. It was an opportunity to uplift Black fathers and remember and honor the lives of Black women who lost their lives to preventable maternal mortality. The keynote speaker, Omari Maynard, featured in the documentary “Aftershock”, shared his story about the passing of his wife just two weeks after giving birth to their second child.


I spoke about the Racial Inequities in Maternal Health Commission I co-chaired last session and the policy solutions that came from that work, many of which were incorporated into the maternal health omnibus mentioned above. I am grateful to the Resilient Sisterhood Project, Mayor Simmons, and Rev. Irene Monroe for hosting this moving and profound event. 


It was an honor to meet Jules Arthur, an incredible artist whose work I was able to see in person at Call and Response: Narratives of Reverence to our Foremothers in Gynecology at the Harvard University Hutchins Center for African and African American Research last winter. Resilient Sisterhood Project has commissioned six paintings from him that encapsulate historical themes of Black reproductive justice and maternity, including portraits of Betsey, Anarcha, and Lucy, three enslaved women and girls who were experimented upon by Dr. J. Marion Sims, the so-called ‘father of gynecology.’ You can read about Jules’ work for the Resilient Sisterhood Project here



I also attended the West Cambridge Little League Mayor’s Cup championship game on Saturday. Congratulations to the Orioles on their victory, and to every team that played this year for their dedication and hard work! I love sponsoring our Little League teams and will always feel honored to share a team in memory of Jimmy Rita, who loved baseball and teaching. I had the joy of being a student of his when I enrolled in automechanics at CRLS. 


It was fun to be back at Lindstrom Field, where I played on the Majors as a member of the Red Sox team.  




It was great to return to the Hoops ‘N’ Health basketball tournament and community health fair, which was held for the first time since 2019 last Saturday. The event featured a Juneteenth celebration, health screenings and resources, music, and delicious food. It was an amazing time with great people! As always, a BIG THANK YOU to the staff at Cambridge DPW who make it possible for our community to come together.



On Tuesday, I attended the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence’s Gun Violence Prevention Month press conference, which touched upon the leading role Massachusetts has taken in gun reform. It was powerful to hear from survivors, including former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, on how gun violence has touched their lives and communities, and a reminder of why continuing to pass common sense gun reform is so crucial. 


Speaker Ron Mariano spoke about the Legislature’s commitment to ending gun violence in our Commonwealth, and I am thankful for his continued leadership in doing so. As I have mentioned in previous newsletters, I have been working with House leadership and Judiciary Committee Chair Michael Day to include several bills I filed into a gun safety omnibus that is currently in Conference Committee. While Massachusetts has the lowest rate of gun deaths in the nation, Speaker Mariano continues to push for our communities to be even safer.



I celebrated Juneteenth with friends and neighbors at Riverside Press Park for the 3rd Annual Cambridge Juneteenth Festival. It was powerful to be among community members to commemorate emancipation 159 years ago and how far we have come as a nation while recognizing persistent disparities in health outcomes and wealth disparities that are rooted in white supremacy. Being with incredible community partners, leaders, and performers in celebration makes this an event I look forward to each year. 

 

Cambridge Public Health Helpline Supports Residents with COVID-19

To speak with someone, call the confidential COVID-19 Hotline at 617-933-0797. Learn more here.


Intimate Partner Abuse Prevention Helpline

This initiative is designed to prevent intimate partner violence by fostering accountability and change in people who harm or may harm their partner. You can find more information at 10to10helpline.org or by calling 877-898-3411.


SafeSpot Overdose Prevention Helpline

SafeSpot is a virtual spotting/overdose detection service for people who use drugs. Learn more at safe-spot.me or access it by calling 800-972-0590.


De Novo Center for Justice and Healing

De Novo is a Cambridge-based nonprofit that provides free civil legal assistance and affordable psychological counseling to people with low incomes. You can learn more about their services at denovo.org.


MassLegalHelp.org is a resource to help Massachusetts residents learn about their legal rights. The website does not offer legal advice or answer individual questions but has a page about options for finding a lawyer. It does provide resources for those facing legal issues, such as a landlord refusing to make repairs, appealing the denial of SNAP benefits, and questions about getting a CORI sealed.

As always, please contact me with questions or concerns at Marjorie.Decker@mahouse.gov.

 

Sincerely,  

Marjorie


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