Mass. Medical Society Urges Passage of Smoking, Cancer Bills

BOSTON — The Mass. Medical Society (MMS) recently testified before the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Financial Services in support of four health-related bills. Two of the bills would increase coverage and programs for smoking cessation, one would provide for prostate-cancer screening, and one would ensure appropriate in-patient coverage for breast-cancer patients.

House Bill 890, “An Act to Provide Coverage for Tobacco Use Cessation under Commonwealth Care,” would require the Commonwealth Care Health Insurance Program to provide to its enrollees comprehensive smoking cessation treatment, information, and education. The legislation would mandate the same level of coverage to Commonwealth Care enrollees as that offered by MassHealth.

House Bill 951, “An Act Curtailing Smoking Addition,” would require the Group Insurance Commission, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and managed-care plans to provide coverage for tobacco-cessation products to their enrollees. While the MMS noted that most insurers now provide smoking-cessation coverage, it also noted that this legislation would mandate that all insurers provide the benefit. The society recommended that the benefit level be the same as that offered under MassHealth.

In supporting both bills, the MMS cited a recent study by the state Department of Public Health that showed that a smoking cessation benefit for MassHealth resulted in significant reductions in costly hospitalizations due to heart attacks, emergency-room visits for asthma, and pregnancy complications.

“Tobacco is the single most preventable cause of premature death in the U.S. today,” the MMS said in its written testimony.  Such legislation would save lives, reduce illness, and help to decrease the cost of health care.”

The society also testified in support of House Bill 898, “An Act Relative to Health Insurance Coverage for Diagnostic Screening for Prostate Cancer.” The bill would require health insurers to provide coverage for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests to detect prostate cancer. The measure leaves the determination of medical necessity up to the individual’s physician.

“The PSA test is one of the most effective tools used by physicians to detect prostate cancer at relatively early stages,” the MMS said. “Requiring insurance coverage for PSA testing will increase its use, which will correspondingly improve the chances of early detection and successful treatment of the disease.”

Finally, the medical society urged passage of Senate Bill 465, “An Act Providing Breast Cancer Patient Protection,” a measure that would require insurers to provide coverage for a minimum of 48 hours of inpatient care following a mastectomy and 24 hours following a lymph-node dissection for the treatment of breast cancer.

“This bill recognizes the importance of the physician-patient relationship and the role of the physician as the patient’s advocate,” the MMS said in its written testimony. “Physicians know all too well the physical and emotional pain that breast-removal surgery brings. Yet they are increasingly losing the battle against insurers to get patients the appropriate services and inpatient coverage that they need.

“We do not dispute the desirability of early discharge when mutually agreed upon by the patient, her family, and the physician,” the society further stated. “What we do dispute, and ask you to reject by supporting this legislation, are decisions by the insurance industry to determine the medical needs of patients by cost alone.”

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