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Mass. lawmakers consider bills to protect residents with disabilities, tackle racial disparities

The Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston.
"King of Hearts"
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The Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston.

Pending legislation on Beacon Hill seeks to protect health care for residents with disabilities during a crisis. State Sen. Adam Gomez, D-Springfield, filed a version of the bill. He said this was a problem at the height of the pandemic, when resources were stretched thin.

During a hearing on the legislation Wednesday. Gomez said it would make it illegal to deny health care to those with disabilities during a crisis “if such a determination is based on a presumption that an individual has a reduced quality of life due to the disability or presumption that an individual's life is less worth saving due to disability."

The Joint Committee on Health Care Financing also took testimony on several other bills. Medical leaders and lawmakers representing marginalized communities touted comprehensive health equity bills as a crucial solution to overcoming long-standing racial disparities, though insurers warned they could raise costs for patients and employers.

Proposals aiming to bolster health care access and outcomes for all Bay Staters — including by ensuring MassHealth coverage for all eligible residents regardless of their immigration status — are backed by the Health Equity Compact, a coalition of more than 80 leaders of color representing hospitals, health centers, universities and other community organizations.

The bills before the Committee on Health Care Financing on Wednesday — sponsored by Reps. Bud Williams and Judith Garcia and Sens. Pavel Payano and Liz Miranda (H 1250 / S 799) — would ensure telehealth payment parity for primary care and chronic disease management, increase funding for safety net hospitals and other providers with a high volume of Medicaid patients, bolster diversity in the health care workforce, and standardize data used to track health equity.

"Without immediate structural changes, our hospitals, community health centers, and most importantly, our residents, cannot bear another health crisis like COVID-19," Payano said at the hearing. "This legislation is an essential step toward addressing the failings of our health care system and the root causes of health inequities across the commonwealth."

NEPM's Adam Frenier and State House News Service contributed to this report.

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