An Act Relative to Advancing Contraception Coverage and Economic Security In Our State (ACCESS) (S.499, H.536)

Lead sponsors: Senator Harriette Chandler (1st Worcester), Representatives Pat Haddad (5th Bristol) and John Scibak (2nd Hampshire)

Contraception is basic, preventive health care that every woman should be able to access, regardless of her economic status. Ninety-nine percent of women have used birth control at some point in their lives. Yet prohibitively expensive co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses can make it very difficult for a woman to protect her health and plan her family. This is especially true for our communities’ most vulnerable populations. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) guaranteed women access to preventive health care without co-pays, including birth control, allowing all women to access the contraceptive method that works best for them, regardless of their economic status. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress are threatening to repeal the ACA, and with it, the added benefit of access to no-copay birth control. Even if left in place, a lack of clarity around the ACA has resulted in inconsistent implementation and, in certain cases, complete denial of coverage for certain types of birth control – even when the woman’s medical history justifies an alternative option. By requiring all Massachusetts insurance companies to cover all contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) without cost-sharing, this bill will safeguard the ACA’s promise to the 1.4 million women in Massachusetts who are counting on continued access to the birth control option that’s best for them. This bill also creates equity in coverage by eliminating cost-sharing for contraception, voluntary sterilization, and contraceptive counseling for men.

An Act Relative to Healthy Youth (S.234, H.2053)

Lead sponsors: Senator Sal DiDomenico (Middlesex and Suffolk), Representatives James O’Day (14th Worcester) and Paul Brodeur (32nd Middlesex)

Currently, when Massachusetts public schools provide their students sex education, there is no guarantee that the information provided is age-appropriate or medically accurate. Indeed, there is a host of unproven, medically inaccurate information, including abstinence-only education, being taught in schools across Massachusetts. As a result, teenagers across Massachusetts are denied critical information about forming healthy and safe relationships and preventing unintended pregnancy and disease. Rates of sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in the country and in Massachusetts. Given this public health crisis, schools that reside in a city or town with an adolescent STI rate that is higher than the state average will be required to teach sex education consistent with the standards set by the bill. This bill maintains existing state law that allows parents to opt their children out of sex education programs. The Healthy Youth Act would ensure that a Massachusetts school electing to teach sex education selects an appropriate curriculum that is medically accurate, ageappropriate, and comprehensive. The comprehensive components of this curriculum proposed in this bill include the benefits of abstinence and delaying sexual activity, effective contraception use, consent, gender identity and sexual orientation, and the relationship and communication skills needed to form healthy, respectful relationships and make healthy decisions.

An Act to Protect Access to Confidential Healthcare (S.591, H,2960)

Lead sponsors: Senator Karen Spilka (2nd Middlesex and Norfolk), Representative Kate Hogan (3rd Middlesex)

Confidentiality is key to the patient-provider relationship. When confidentiality is not assured, patients are understandably reluctant to communicate openly with their health care providers. Patients insured as dependents under a health plan of a family member or spouse often have confidentiality concerns because insurance companies routinely divulge sensitive information to a plan’s subscriber about the type of health care their dependents receive, breaching that patient’s privacy rights. Such breaches occur when insurers deliver an explanation of benefits (EOB) to the plan subscriber. As a result, patients insured as dependents may delay or even forgo essential health care, especially if they fear being stigmatized or harmed as a result of the disclosure. This bill would encourage people to access the health care they need and use their health insurance, by requiring insurers to allow each insured individual to choose how they receive ‘member-level’ EOBs, including electronic means or mailing it to an alternative address. It would establish a policy that EOBs are not issued if no balance remains on a claim, ensuring EOBs are not sent for preventive health services with no cost sharing (e.g. a birth control refill, pregnancy or STI test, or domestic violence counseling session). This bill would also require EOBs to provide general information only, such as “office visit” or “medical care,” rather than more explicit descriptions.

An Act Advancing and Expanding Access to Telemedicine Services (S.549, H.578)

Lead Sponsors: Senator Jason Lewis (5th Middlesex), Representative John Scibak (2nd Hampshire)

As an essential community provider and the state’s largest freestanding reproductive healthcare provider, Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts knows that access to health care services is essential. Many people have a difficult time accessing in-person healthcare for many different reasons, such as mobility limitations, major distance, time barriers, and transportation limitations. Telemedicine provides an efficient and convenient alternative to an in person visit. Harnessing advancements in technology and delivering services via telemedicine improves care by giving patients more convenient access to providers and greater access to specialists located outside their geographic area. Telemedicine is the future and a commonsense way to improve access to important health care services. This legislation requires insurance companies to cover services delivered via telemedicine and ensures that providers are reimbursed at comparable rates to in-person services. Creating a strong telemedicine policy in Massachusetts will enable PPLM and all other health care providers to deliver important preventive health services – like birth control counseling and prescriptions – and reach people in parts of the state who currently struggle to access the reproductive care they need.

An Act Establishing a Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program (S.1048, H.2172)

Lead Sponsors: Senator Karen Spilka (2nd Middlesex and Norfolk), Representative Ken Gordon (21st Middlesex)

There is a growing national dialogue around paid family and medical leave policies that would allow workers to take time off to take care of their health or the health of a loved one without fear of losing their job or the risk of financial ruin. The paid family and medical leave (PFML) bill would create a new state program that provides benefits for workers to take up to 12 weeks of family care leave – to care for a new child or address a family medical emergency – and up to 26 weeks of temporary disability leave to take care of their own health. This legislation is a critical safety net for workers and their families in Massachusetts. Nearly 40% of workers in the state (1.2M) are not guaranteed leave under the federal unpaid leave law because they work for companies with fewer than 50 employees. Further, unpaid leave is not a financially viable option for most working families, particularly low-income and single parent households. Many face financial hardship if they have to leave a job that puts food on the table to care for a family member they love. No one should have to choose between their job and caring for a sick family member or a new child. This bill ensures women and families of all races, backgrounds, and income levels have the ability to care for themselves and their families.

An Act Safeguarding the Health Care Decisions of Young Adults (S.754, H.893)

Lead Sponsors: Senator Michael Barrett (3rd Middlesex), Representative David Linksy (5th Middlesex)

Massachusetts has one of the most restrictive parental consent laws in the northeast, requiring a pregnant woman under the age of 18 to either obtain parental consent or a court order if she decides to have an abortion. Because many young women cannot discuss their pregnancies with a parent, they end up crossing state lines in desperate search of an abortion. This legislation takes meaningful steps to ensure young women have access to the health care they need by adjusting the age of consent for abortion, bringing this law in line with other state statutes that give young people age 16 and older the right to consent to prenatal care, mental health services, and other care.