Patrick would bolster pharmacy oversight
More inspectors would be hired to scour compounding pharmacies following the outbreak of fungal meningitis blamed on a Framingham drug business, under the budget Governor Deval Patrick proposed Wednesday. And the state would resume coverage of full dental care for low-income adults next January, lifting the current prohibition on paying for fillings in back teeth.
Hospitals, which have balked at years of state spending cuts, would receive nearly $30 million more, or roughly a 5 percent rate increase, for their care of low-income patients, and $34 million would be used for implementing health care cost-control legislation passed last year.
With December’s Connecticut school massacre still fresh in mind, Patrick’s budget also includes a $23 million boost for mental health services, roughly a 3.3 percent increase, to improve juvenile justice-related community health programs and psychiatric services in hospital emergency rooms, said John Polanowicz, who was sworn in this week as health and human services secretary, replacing Dr. JudyAnn Bigby.
“We know that mental illness is a disease that can be treated,” Polanowicz said, “and we need to work collaboratively with communities to reduce stigma and increase programs at the community level.”
Polanowicz inherits a Department of Public Health that has come under scrutiny after back-to-back scandals, including the national fungal meningitis outbreak linked to tainted drugs produced at New England Compounding Center.
The state agency oversees the regulation of such pharmacies.
The new money includes $1 million specifically for the department to hire more people to conduct surprise inspections at compounding pharmacies, which prepare medications in formulations and doses unavailable off the shelf.
An additional $2.7 million would be used to hire about 31 staff members for other public health efforts, such as examining food safety in restaurants and clearing a backlog of required hospital inspections.
The Massachusetts Hospital Association released a statement saying it is pleased with Patrick’s budget, particularly the boost in reimbursement rates for hospitals treating low-income patients.
“While it doesn’t solve the state’s underpayment for Medicaid patients, it is an important recognition of the challenges that hospitals face,” said the statement from Lynn Nicholas, the association’s chief executive.
MassHealth dental coverage for low-income adults had been cut in 2010 during the recession and was partially restored last year. Patrick proposes to resume full coverage at the start of 2014 using money available under the federal health care law.
Patrick’s budget includes more funding for the Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain, though the facility’s budget overall would decrease roughly $225,000 to $12.5 million, because of a drop in federal grants.
Until last summer, Hinton was home to the state drug lab, where chemist Annie Dookhan is accused of having tampered with samples, throwing into question thousands of drug convictions.
Oversight of the drug lab was transferred in July to the State Police.
The Hinton labs continue to test for infectious diseases, as well as mosquito-borne illnesses, rabies, and food safety.
No additional funding was provided for home care services for more than 1,000 senior citizens on a state waiting list, prompting immediate reaction from the AARP, a nonprofit that advocates on issues facing people over 50.
“The time to end home care waiting lists is now,” state director Michael Festa said in a press release. “The vast majority of seniors want to stay in their own homes and communities as they age.”