Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has introduced a new $110 million legislative package to aid in the state’s efforts to fight the opioid crisis.
Among the proposals included in the bill, one would require treatment providers to accept Medicaid as a condition of licensure. Another would require clinicians in emergency departments to directly connect willing patients to treatment services, and, starting in 2020, permit doctors to send unwilling addicted patients deemed a danger to themselves or others for 72 hours of involuntary treatment at an inpatient facility.
Two years ago, Baker proposed legislation that would have allowed addiction patients to be held in emergency departments against their will for 72 hours. The controversial proposal was struck down by the state legislature.
Vic DiGravio, president and CEO of the Association for Behavioral Healthcare, a Massachusetts mental health and addictions services advocacy group, says the new 72-hour proposal works, as long as providers are not mandated to participate in the program.
“If providers choose to be part of this process, we see it as a positive development because it will give them the opportunity to try to engage someone in treatment for up to three days as opposed to having that person go right to the court system to be civilly committed for treatment,” DiGravio says. “It will … hopefully expand access to treatment without people having to go through the court process to get it.”
Other aspects of Baker’s proposed bill include:
- $30 million per year in Medicaid funding for opioid treatment and a $2 million trust fund for education;
- A requirement for hospitals to connect patients with voluntary treatment options;
- Stronger licensure standards for treatment providers, such as: requiring providers to demonstrate an ability to treatment mental illnesses as well as addiction and barring providers from denying treatment to patients covered by Medicaid;
- The establishment of two commissions to identify the qualifications of clinicians and establish standards for recovery coaches;
- The creation of a referral process for physicians suspected of violating prescribing laws and a commission to develop best practices for prescribing medication for common procedures.
The new bill is Baker’s second major legislative push in fighting the opioid epidemic since taking office. In 2016, he signed legislation that limited opioid prescriptions. Massachusetts state officials reported this month that through September, 1,470 people in the state had died of opioid overdoses, down 10% from the same period the previous year.
DiGravio says that while he expects some aspects of the new proposal to change once it is picked up by the legislature, the Association for Behavioral Healthcare is pleased to see state officials continuing to make the opioid epidemic a public policy priority.
“There are a lot of really good ideas and concrete proposals that we think will make it easier for people to access treatment and expand access to treatment ultimately,” DiGravio says. “The legislature, as they should, will have a lot of say. The good news is we have a history in Massachusetts of the legislative and executive branches working closely together on addiction issues. We are very fortunate to have leadership in both branches that understand this is an epidemic and that inaction is not an option. We’re confident the legislature will give strong consideration to the governor’s bill and that a bill will be passed.”