State Budget, AG's Purdue Lawsuit

AG’s Proposed Settlement with Purdue Pharma

The $4.3 billion settlement Attorney General Maura Healey and 14 other states Attorneys General reached last week with the Sackler family, who control drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma, will bring $90 million to Massachusetts for use in combatting the opioid crisis in the state.
The agreement bans the Sacklers from the opioid business, winds down Purdue Pharma by 2024, and releases more than 30 million documents covering 20 years of communications relating to how the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma marketed and distributed OxyContin as hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. became addicted to, and died from, opioids.
"While I know this resolution does not bring back loved ones or undo the evil of what the Sacklers did, forcing them to turn over their secrets by providing all the documents, forcing them to repay billions, forcing the Sacklers out of the opioid business, and shutting down Purdue will help stop anything like this from ever happening again," Healey said at a news conference last Thursday.
The agreement, if approved by a bankruptcy court, resolves the suit the AGs brought against the Sackler family. In return for the concessions from the family, the Sacklers and Purdue would be shielded from future lawsuits. The $4.3 billion settlement, along with the other conditions, including prohibiting the Sacklers from seeking naming rights for their contributions to hospitals and other facilities, is an improvement from the family’s original $3 billion settlement offer two years ago that Healey and the other AGs rejected.
"It took tremendous courage on the part of the attorney general and her staff to say no to that deal," said Governor Charlie Baker, who appeared with Healey at the news conference.
MHA has been supportive of Healey’s actions against the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma. In 2019, MHA wrote the U.S. Bankruptcy Court urging the judge hearing the case to reject Purdue Pharma’s proposed settlement and its request for a nationwide injunction that would stop all lawsuits against the company and the Sackler family.
“Absolving the Sackler family and its company of responsibility through bankruptcy protection would not be in the public interest,” MHA president & CEO Steve Walsh wrote at the time. “In fact, letting the architects of the problem walk away relatively unscathed while patients and the public health community continue to flounder in the rubble of their opioid scheme would be unconscionable and unjust.”
Last Thursday, Walsh said, “The breadth and severity of the devastation resulting from Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin strategy is enormous. Attorney General Healey’s persistence in this case – especially in insisting on the release of documents detailing the strategies that led to the opioid epidemic – is admirable, and the hospital community commends her and her office for their unceasing efforts.”

State Seeks Data on How ACOs are Collecting RELD Data

The Massachusetts Quality Measurement Alignment Taskforce is seeking input from accountable care organizations and payers on their collection of data relating to race, ethnicity, language, and disability (RELD). Results will be de-identified and used to help the Taskforce assess the current state of RELD data collection and disparities measurement.

The Quality Measure Alignment Taskforce has been in existence since 2017 with the goal of building consensus on an aligned measure set for voluntary adoption by private and public payers and by providers in global budget-based risk contracts.

The 2022 measure set goes into effect on January 1 in contracts renewing on or after that date. The new measure set does not include the new menu measure for race, ethnicity, and language stratification. An updated document will be posted to the taskforce website including this measure when the specifications are finalized by mid-July. To assist the taskforce in assessing the current state of data collection and disparities measurement as they relate to race, ethnicity, language, and disability (RELD), MHA sent the state survey to its membership last week.

A Survey on Serious Illness Care

The Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care, of which MHA is a member, is seeking information from organizations – including hospitals and physician practices – about the biggest challenges they face in providing care and support for people with serious illness. The coalition is also seeking information on the biggest concerns and challenges individuals with serious illness face, which in turn results in poor experiences for them.
Last week, MHA sent its membership the coalition’s five-question survey on the issue, with additional probing questions to tease out more responses. Learn more about the Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care by visiting here.

Trinity Health Mandates Vaccines

Trinity Health, the healthcare system based in Michigan, is mandating that “all colleagues, clinical staff, contractors, and those conducting business in its healthcare facilities“ be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus by September 21. Trinity employs approximately 117,000 people in 22 states, including workers at Trinity Health of New England’s Mercy Medical Center and Weldon Rehabilitation Hospital in Springfield.
Employees who fail to show proof of vaccination, and who do not meet religious or health exemptions, will face termination of employment. Trinity said that if it is ultimately determined that a COVID-19 vaccine booster will be required annually, employees will also need to submit proof of the booster as needed.

House and Senate Negotiators Reach Budget Deal

House and Senate lawmakers last week passed a compromise FY2022 state budget that includes $48.1 billion in spending and does not draw on the legislature’s initial plan to use at least $1.5 billion in state reserves. Governor Baker will have 10 days to veto or amend components of the spending bill. 
Among other items relating to healthcare, the budget establishes a non-emergency human services task force in an effort to collaborate and improve services. The final bill directs the DPH Commissioner to establish a public information campaign for pharmacies and commonwealth residents regarding an individual’s eligibility to receive a 12-month prescription for contraceptives. The final budget increases the grant amounts for cash benefits offered for low-income families (Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children), and for low-income elderly individuals, those who have a disability, and those caretaking a child with a disability. 
H.4002 makes several efforts to address the current behavioral health crisis. The bill requires regular reporting of the availability of inpatient continuing care beds contracted by the Department of Mental Health, including the duration of wait time for continuing care of patients in acute psychiatric facilities and whether any beds are taken out of operation. It establishes a special commission to study use of methamphetamine and other stimulants that is tasked with issuing recommendations to the legislature. The final bill includes language to revive a special commission on school-based health centers that was passed in last session’s children’s mental health law. The commission, which was unable to meet due to the COVID-19 pandemic, would now have until January 15, 2022, to complete its required legislative report and recommendations. Conferees also adopted language requiring all untested investigatory sexual assault evidence kits be tested within 180 days of the act’s effective date.
Additionally, the compromise bill allows the transfer of $40 million from the MassHealth Delivery System Reform Trust Fund to the General Fund to reimburse the commonwealth for Medicaid-related expenses. Additionally, the bill allows the Secretary of Administration and Finance to transfer up to $12.8 million from the Prescription Advantage Program and the Health Safety Net Trust Fund in amounts necessary to support the Medicare Savings or Medicare Buy-In programs.

Booster Shots? Pfizer Says Yes, CDC Says Not Yet

The COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer Pfizer announced last week that its preliminary trials showed that people who received a third shot of their vaccine – a booster shot – administered six months after the second shot increased an individuals ability to fight off the coronavirus. The company said booster shots may be needed to fight virus variants and that it would file with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to get authorization for the booster shots.
But the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) immediately issued a statement that said, “Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time. FDA, CDC, and [National Institutes of Health] are engaged in a science-based, rigorous process to consider whether or when a booster might be necessary. This process takes into account laboratory data, clinical trial data, and cohort data – which can include data from specific pharmaceutical companies, but does not rely on those data exclusively.”

Executive Insights Series: Lawrence General’s Deborah Wilson

Thursday, July 15; 8-8:30 a.m.

Join MHA's Executive Insights Series, which throughout 2021 will feature candid interviews of hospital leaders. We welcome you to pour a cup of coffee and start your day with us as we hear directly from the CEOs who help power our world-class healthcare community.
Deborah Wilson, president & CEO of Lawrence General Hospital, will join us on Thursday, July 15 to discuss her healthcare leadership in the Merrimack Valley and beyond. Wilson has led the effort in recent weeks to call attention to how the pandemic, even with federal provider relief, has wreaked financial havoc on safety-net hospitals across the state. Click here to register.

John LoDico, Editor