Month: July 2014

House Passes Legislation to Promote Public Safety, Protect Access to Care

The House of Representatives has passed legislation that enhances public safety and protects access to reproductive health care facilities in Massachusetts.

The bill does not create a new buffer zone but instead authorizes law enforcement officials to issue a withdrawal order to someone blocking access to a facility entrance or driveway. Following dispersal, the individual must remain at least 25 feet from the facility’s entrances and driveways for a maximum of eight hours. The legislation requires the boundary to be clearly marked and the withdrawal law to be posted.

“Through a focus on conduct, this legislation will enhance public safety and protect access to care,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said. “My priority is protecting individuals using these health care facilities and I thank my colleagues in the Legislature, Senate President Murray and Attorney General Coakley for their vigilance in this regard.”

“This legislation establishes conduct as a reason for creating that 25 feet zone of protection, not the content of someone’s speech or their opinions,” said Representative Christopher Markey (D-Dartmouth), Vice-Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. “It allows for those patients and employees entering and exiting reproductive health care facilities to have that modicum of privacy without abrogating anyone’s right to express themselves. This doesn’t limit or curtail protest, but rather it seeks to address those who would escalate the situation by impeding, obstructing or assaulting.”

“We commend the House for taking swift action to help ensure safe access to reproductive health centers,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley. “This bill establishes a path forward in our efforts to protect basic healthcare access in Massachusetts. I would like to thank the Speaker and the members of the House for their leadership on this important issue.”

The bill prohibits:

  • A person from intentionally injuring or intimidating, or attempting to do the same, a person trying to access or depart from a facility by force, physical act or threat of force; and,
  • Impeding a patient or staff member’s access or departure to a facility with the clear intent to interfere with the person’s ability to receive or provide services; and,
  • Recklessly interfering with a vehicle attempting to access or departure a facility.

The bill aims to improve compliance by allowing for an affected individual, entity or the Attorney General to bring a civil action in Superior Court seeking injunctive relief, damages and attorneys’ fees.  The court would be able to award civil penalties. Any violation of an injunction would result in a criminal offense.

Under this legislation the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act would be updated to give the Attorney General the power to obtain compensatory damages, recover litigation costs and fees, and seek penalties for the interference of constitutional rights.

The bill passed the House 116 to 35.

All aboard for weekend rail service!

By Rep. Josh Cutler

Summer is a great time to take the family into the city and watch a ballgame at Fenway, visit our world class Museum of Science, or just enjoy an afternoon at Faneuil Hall or the Esplanade.

In most suburban areas of Massachusetts a day trip into the city is easy. Just park your car at the local commuter rail station and enjoy a hassle free ride into Boston. Not so here in Pembroke or throughout most of the South Shore. In fact, we are the only area besides Needham in all of Metropolitan Boston not to have weekend commuter rail service in the area.

Citing low ridership and budget woes, the MBTA cut our weekend service back in July of 2012. Well, as the saying goes, sometimes you don’t miss something until it’s gone. The South Shore certainly misses our weekend commuter rail service. I heard that refrain frequently when I was running for this office back in 2012 and now that I am serving in the legislature.

Families wanting to take a day trip into Boston miss weekend service. Nurses, engineers, service and retail workers and other professionals who work a non-traditional schedule and rely on the commuter rail to get to work miss the service.

And it works both ways. Tourists, visitors and Boston residents who might want to get out of the city and come down to the South Shore for a day trip, head to one of our great beaches, or visit one of our nearby historic attractions also miss weekend service; so too for the many area college students needing to get home over the weekend.

The good news is that a bi-partisan coalition of legislators is working with the MBTA to make the case that our weekend service should be restored. Thanks especially to the leadership of Sen. Therese Murray we are making great strides. If properly marketed and competitively priced we believe that weekend service can attract a dedicated ridership and provide a successful, economically viable transportation alternative.

Key to this is not simply restoring the weekend service, but making it more attractive to use. That means adding family fares, reduced parking fees on weekends and other options to encourage residents to get out of their cars and hop on the train. It also means doing more to promote the service to boost ridership and develop more repeat customers.

There is help waiting in the wings. A local radio station, WATD, has already pledged $50,000 in free advertising to help promote weekend service and the Pembroke Mariner has also agreed to help spread the word in. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the Metro South Chamber of Commerce and many other local organizations including the Pembroke Board of Selectmen have already voiced their support for restoration of weekend service.

Our coalition is growing. And while we work to push our message on Beacon Hill, we ask you to join our effort. Let the MBTA know you want your weekend service restored and post your comments on our new Facebook page (facebook.com/ssweekendrail).

If you are part of a membership organization, ask them to formally support restoration of weekend service and send us a letter of support we can share. We need to show the MBTA that there is growing demand for weekend service and we can’t do it alone.

Think about all the economic activity generated by train service; the commuters, the visitors and tourists, the ancillary business and ripple effect that is created. Currently we have a nearly $1 billion dollar fixed asset that is sitting idle on weekends. We can put it to better use.

By letting the train engines run again on weekends, the Old Colony Line can provide an economic engine for our entire region.

Rep. Josh Cutler (D-Duxbury) represents the Sixth Plymouth District comprised of Pembroke, Duxbury & Hanson. For more information visit www.joshcutler.com.

Published in the Pembroke Mariner July 16, 2014.

Comprehensive Legislation will Improve Oversight, Licensing and Quality Standards for Compounding Pharmacies

The Mass. State Legislature has passed final legislation that will increase oversight, improve quality and safety standards, and establish rigorous transparency and accountability practices for pharmacies engaged in the compounding of sterile and complex non-sterile drugs.

The bill creates comprehensive and uniform standards that will govern the operations of specialty pharmacies engaged in compounding, an industry that previously lacked consistent standards at both the state and federal level. This legislation was carefully crafted in response to the 2012 meningitis outbreak linked to contaminated drugs produced at the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Massachusetts.

“This legislation ensures that we are doing all we can to guarantee the highest standards of safety, oversight and transparency for compounding pharmacies,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “The distribution of contaminated drugs that occurred in 2012 was an egregious tragedy, but I’m proud of the strong and comprehensive response by the Legislature. Massachusetts prides itself on being a hub of health care and medical excellence. It is my hope that these reforms will set a national standard so that no individual is again affected by this kind of negligence.”

“I am proud of the Legislature for taking the necessary steps to protect the health of our residents, especially after the devastating meningitis outbreak of 2012 that affected so many individuals across the Commonwealth and across the country as well,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “This bill outlines reforms needed to increase the regulation, oversight and quality of our compounding pharmacies and these changes are important to help prevent a similar tragic accident from happening again in the future.”

“This legislation clearly defines the boundaries of safe and appropriate compounding and applies strict standards to all pharmacies producing or shipping compounding drugs in Massachusetts.” said Representative Jeffrey Sánchez (D-Jamaica Plain), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health. “Massachusetts will now have among the most rigorous standards for compounding in the nation, but these are achievable standards that balance patient safety with patient access to medically necessary drugs.”

“This process has been long in the making. We wanted to ensure our consideration of this complex topic was thorough, and that our outcome would be a comprehensive policy that can be emulated across the country,” said Senator John F. Keenan (D-Quincy), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health. “With this legislation, we will go from the state where an unregulated pharmacy compounded a substance that killed dozens of people and caused more than 700 to deal with serious illness, to the state which provides patients with the best safety standards in the country.”

“We’ve seen the tragic consequences that occur when a compounding pharmacy breaks the rules and the proper safeguards aren’t in place,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “We have a moral obligation to ensure that compounders in our state have professional, comprehensive and responsible regulations and supervision, and this bill makes tremendous progress toward those goals.”

The legislation addresses the unique needs of this industry by requiring the Board of Registration in Pharmacy to establish specialty licenses for retail sterile compounding pharmacies, retail complex non-sterile compounding pharmacies, institutional pharmacies, which include hospitals, and out-of-state businesses selling their products in Massachusetts. Additionally, all licensed compounding pharmacies will now be required to adhere to strict quality control protocols, production standards and reporting requirements.

This compounding pharmacy bill modernizes pharmacy oversight through numerous provisions:

  • Mandates both annual and unannounced, detailed inspections of all retail sterile, retail complex non-sterile and institutional sterile compounding pharmacies;
  • Reforms the composition of the State Board of Pharmacy;
  • Requires state inspectors to be trained in updated compounding standards;
  • Implements public reporting and posting on the Department of Public Health website of serious adverse drug events, board of pharmacy investigations and enforcement actions; and
  • Ensures that state and national agencies communicate on oversight and potential problems.

The bill also seeks to enhance patient access to information and improve the quality of compounded drug preparations by:

  • Mandating special training and continuing education for pharmacists engaged in compounding;
  • Requiring compounding pharmacies to clearly label sterile and non-sterile compounded drugs;
  • Requiring licensed compounding pharmacies to operate a patient assistance hotline, unless the pharmacy only provides drugs to patients that are admitted to the hospital; and
  • Redefining the statutory definition of “serious adverse drug events” (SADE) to meet current national standards and to enhance mandatory reporting by health care facilities and pharmacies to the appropriate state and federal agencies.

The bill now goes to the Governor for his final approval.

House Passes Legislation to Combat Substance Abuse Epidemic

The Mass. House of Representatives has passed legislation that increases access to treatment for individuals confronting substance addition and takes significant steps to combat the current epidemic.   

The bill seeks to set patients on a path to sustainable recovery by both increasing access to care and improving the standard of care. Under this legislation, all insurance plans in the Commonwealth will cover acute treatment services, clinical stabilization and medical detox for at least ten days, and patients will have access to treatment without having to obtain prior authorization first. Additionally, licensed drug and alcohol counselors will be added to the list of specialists covered to allow these providers to bill insurers for their services. 

“This legislation is the first step in quelling the rise in substance addition that is devastating the lives of people across the Commonwealth,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “The bill provides the foundation for sustainable improvement by increasing access to care and changing the way we monitor and respond to unprecedented public health crises like the one we’re currently confronting.”

“Under the leadership of Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, the House prioritized consideration of this bill to address a recent alarming rise in substance abuse incidents,” said Representative Brian S. Dempsey (D – Haverhill), chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means. “We implement standards to ensure quality of care for those in treatment and we empower the Drug Formulary Commission and the Department of Public Health to determine if substances pose a heightened risk to our Commonwealth. Our bill takes important steps not only to provide comprehensive support and recovery services, but to protect the public health before incidents occur. “

“This historic piece of legislation will ensure that individuals in need of substance abuse treatment are able to get it, for at least 10 days, when the need it and without insurance barriers,” said Representative Liz Malia (D-Jamaica Plain), Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. “The bill also ensures the public health and safety of all citizens by increasing the membership and role of the drug formulary commission and allows the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health to schedule new drugs, on an emergency temporary basis, to avoid imminent hazards to public safety. I am extremely proud of all of the components of the bill and truly believe it will make a difference for individuals and families across the Commonwealth.”

The legislation expands on efforts taken by the House last year by allowing for the emergency scheduling of substances by the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health (DPH).  DPH will now have the authority to temporarily categorize a substance as “schedule I’ on an emergency basis to avoid imminent hazard to public safety or preserve public health. Additionally, this bill authorizes DPH compile a list of prescription drug drop boxes and other safe locations where people will be able to dispose of excess prescription drugs.

To increase oversight and enhance the Commonwealth’s ability to respond to public health problems, this legislation increases the membership of the Drug Formulary Commission (DFC) to include representatives from the Department of Insurance, DPH, Medicaid and chronic pain and addition medicine specialists. The DFC will also be required to recommend a list of chemically equivalent substitutions for opiates that are less likely to be abused to encourage the prescription of abuse-deterrent medications.