Rep. Benson Named Chair of Health Care Financing

BOSTON – State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) has been named the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.

“I’m honored that Speaker DeLeo has named me to serve as the House Chair of this important Committee,” said Representative Benson. “I’m looking forward to collaborating with my Senate counterpart, Chairwoman Cindy Friedman, and the Committee members. We have a big job ahead of us and we’ll be working to address the high cost of health care and craft policy solutions that will benefit all residents of the Commonwealth.”

The Joint Committee on Health Care Financing considers all matters concerning the direct funding of health care policy and programs, including Medicaid, MassHealth, and other public health assistance matters. Health care makes up approximately 43% of the Commonwealth’s annual budget, and has been the fastest growing budget category in the past decade.

Representative Benson has previously served as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, and the acting House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. She was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2008.

Rep. Benson’s Legislation for the 2019-2020 Session

BOSTON — Last month, State Representative Jennifer Benson filed 17 bills in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Building on her record as a champion for energy issues, five of her bills address energy and environmental policy in the Commonwealth, including her ambition carbon pricing bill, which has garnered more than 100 cosponsors.

Energy and the Environment

AN ACT TO PROMOTE GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE AND REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS

There is worldwide agreement among scientists and policymakers that the Earth is warming at an unsustainable rate due to human activity. In 2008, Massachusetts passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) and pledged to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. This bill puts a price on carbon emissions to incentivize a move toward renewable energy and help us meet or exceed the GWSA emissions target. 70% of the collected price is rebated to consumers and businesses, and 30% is dedicated to a Green Infrastructure Fund for local investments in renewable energy projects that will further reduce emissions and stimulate the economy. There are built in protections for low and middle income households, those who live in rural areas, and export-driven manufacturers.

AN ACT TO PROTECT RATEPAYERS

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has approved profit margins for electricity utilities that are significantly higher than our neighboring states. The Department has also approved automatic annual rate increases for Eversource 1.5% higher than the rate of inflation. This bill caps the profit margins of utilities at the average of our neighboring states (currently ≈9.2%), which will save ratepayers money and incentivize utilities to invest in renewable energy.

AN ACT TO ESTABLISH RATE OPTIONS TO REDUCE CUSTOMER COSTS AND LOWER PEAK DEMAND

This bill requires utility companies to offer on-peak/off-peak rate structures so ratepayers can save money by changing their energy consumption habits. This also incentivizes the use of electric cars, which typically charge during off-peak hours, as well as the usage of energy storage and the purchase of smart appliances.

AN ACT PROMOTING LOCAL ENERGY INVESTMENT AND INFRASTRUCTURE MODERNIZATION

The energy market in Massachusetts is undergoing a significant transformation as distributed generation upends the historical model of centralized generation. This bill requires utilities to update the electrical grid for the 21st century and implement technologies that support the decentralization of generation, thereby allowing for more interconnection of renewables.

AN ACT TO INCREASE THE USE OF ZERO EMISSION VEHICLES IN THE COMMONWEALTH

Current law required 50% of all vehicles in the state fleet to be hybrids or use alternative fuel by 2018. This requirement was not met. This bill sets escalating, achievable yearly benchmarks, starting with 15% of vehicles in FY2020, with an end goal of 50% set in FY2026.


Health Care and Public Health

AN ACT RELATIVE TO DIABETES PREVENTION

In Massachusetts, more than 700,000 people have diabetes. This bill directs state agencies under the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to collaborate on the creation of a Diabetes Action Plan to better identify and understand the impact of diabetes in the state. This information will be used to develop public health strategies to reduce the frequency of diabetes among residents of the Commonwealth.

AN ACT EMPOWERING HEALTH CARE CONSUMERS

This bill requires health insurance companies and the Health Connector to provide easily accessible and searchable information about prescription costs in their plans so consumers can make informed decisions when choosing health insurance.

AN ACT RELATIVE TO FAIL FIRST AND PATIENT SAFETY

Currently, health insurance companies can force a patient to try a less expensive treatment before agreeing to pay for a prescribed treatment. This practice is called “step therapy” or “fail first”. In some cases, requiring a patient to follow a step therapy protocol may have adverse and even dangerous consequences. This bill creates guidelines to provide a way for doctors to override insurance companies so a patient can more quickly access the medication originally prescribed for them.

AN ACT ENSURING ACCESS TO MEDICATIONS

This bill amends the “Any Willing Provider” law to close the “specialty medication loophole”, thereby allowing community pharmacies to fill prescriptions for specialty medications such as biologics, as long as the pharmacy can meet the standards required for handling and administering the drugs. This will make it easier for patients to access medications that treat many common autoimmune diseases and other conditions.

AN ACT TO ADDRESS THE FINANCIAL STABILITY OF THE HEALTH SAFETY NET

The Health Safety Net program allows acute care hospitals and health centers to provide essential services to the uninsured and underinsured. However, in recent years, the program has not been adequately funded. This bill strengthens the program by reinforcing the requirement that the Unemployment Assistance Trust Fund contribute at least $30 million per year to the program, and splitting the responsibility for funding shortfalls between hospitals and surcharge payers.

AN ACT RELATIVE TO CO-PAY ASSISTANCE

This bill makes permanent a provision in a bill enacted last year that allows co-pay assistance, often in the form of coupons, for prescription medications without generic alternatives.


Election Reform

AN ACT PROVIDING A LOCAL OPTION FOR RANKED CHOICE VOTING IN MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS

This bill gives cities and towns the option to use ranked choice voting (RCV) in municipal elections. In RCV, voters rank as many choices as there are candidates. If their first choice can’t win, their vote counts toward their next choice, and so on, until a candidate clears the 50% mark. RCV has been implemented state-wide in Maine and has been used in dozens of jurisdictions across the country.

AN ACT RELATIVE TO ELECTION DAY REGISTRATION (SATELLITES)

This bill allows people who have moved, have errors in their registration, or have never been registered to register and vote at their polling place on Election Day, or at a designated satellite early voting location before Election Day. This will increase voter turnout at little to no cost to municipalities or the Commonwealth.


Higher Education

AN ACT TO AUTHORIZE STATE UNIVERSITIES TO OFFER CLINICAL AND PROFESSIONAL DOCTORATE PROGRAMS

Currently, Massachusetts prohibits state universities from offering doctorate level programs. In the current job market, there is an increasing need for employees with higher levels of education, even for entry level positions. This bill aligns our state universities with those across the country by allowing them to offer clinical and professional doctorate degree programs.

AN ACT ESTABLISHING A STUDENT TUITION RECOVERY FUND

This bill creates a Student Tuition Recovery Fund to help Massachusetts students who have been defrauded by for-profit schools. The Fund lets eligible students recover tuition and other costs if a for-profit school they’re attending closes, fails to provide the services promised, or violates state law.


Other Bills

AN ACT TO ESTABLISH A MOTORCYCLE SAFETY FUND

This bill creates a dedicated Motorcycle Safety Fund that will provide $150 rebates to junior motorcycle operators who successfully complete a safety course. The fund is financed by a $2 premium paid by motorcyclists on their annual registrations.

AN ACT RELATIVE TO WHOLESALE ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE PURCHASES

This bill allows a single entity which owns two or more retail package store licenses to cross accumulate purchases to obtain the higher quality discount.

STATEMENT: Rep. Benson’s Carbon Pricing Bill Gets More than 100 Cosponsors, Hits Majority Support in the House

“Thanks to the tireless work of advocates, organizers, and constituents, my carbon pricing bill, An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure & Reduce Carbon Emissions, just passed 100 cosponsors! This includes more than half the House of Representatives. I’m proud to have the most cosponsored energy bill in the House, and I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues to fight for carbon pricing this session!”

– State Representative Jen Benson

Rep. Benson’s Consumer Credit Protection Bill Signed Into Law

BOSTON – The Governor today signed into law Representative Jennifer Benson’s (D-Lunenburg) consumer protection legislation providing added security and resources for consumers in the event of a data breach.

Under this legislation, credit freezes must be provided free of charge. In the event of a data breach, consumers will be provided with 18 months of free credit monitoring. If the data breach occurs at a credit rating agency, such as the breach at Equifax reported in 2017, 42 months of free credit monitoring will be provided.

“I filed legislation to make it easier for victims of identity theft to freeze their credit reports,” said Representative Benson. “In the wake of the Equifax breach last year, I worked with the Attorney General and advocates to strengthen the bill with further protections. Consumers in Massachusetts will now be empowered to take control of their credit data, and they’ll have more support to help them recover more quickly if their data is hacked or leaked.”

The bill was first enacted by the Legislature in July of last year. The Governor returned the bill with a recommended technical change, which was implemented in a new version the Legislature sent back to the Governor on New Year’s Eve.

The legislation also updates the framework for the implementation of a credit freeze and gives consumers more control over their data by:

  • Requiring financial institutions to get the consent of a consumer before accessing or using a consumer’s credit report;
  • Requiring clear and accurate disclosure to consumers of basic information about credit freezes, and the new services available to them under this law;
  • Mandating that when a consumer requests a freeze, national credit reporting agencies must inform consumers of other reporting agencies that may have files on the consumer.

Representative Benson’s November & December 2018 Office Update

Around The District

Veterans Day

This year, to honor the men and women of the armed forces, I participated in Veterans Day events in Boxborough and Harvard. In Boxborough, I spoke at the dedication of Carl S. Swanson Square, named for a World War I veteran from the town. At the Harvard Veterans Day ceremony, Senator Jamie Eldridge and I read the names of the 64 World War I veterans from Harvard. This Veterans Day was the centennial anniversary of Armistice Day, which ended World War I, so it was especially meaningful to be invited to participate in these event honoring veterans from the War.

Nashoba Valley Job Fair

The annual Nashoba Valley Job Fair was held on November 13, and I stopped by to speak with attendees. My office has helped organize the event since 2012. Although the unemployment rate has been cut in half since then, the event is still well-attended every year, and helps connect job seekers to employers across a variety of industries in the private and public sectors.

Change Comes to Boy Scouts of America (BSA)

As was widely reported in 2017, girls are now allowed to join the upper ranks of Scouting and become Eagle Scouts for the first time in the more than 100-year history of BSA. In November, I met with a group of Webelos from Fitchburg’s Pack 41. It was great to help them complete their “Building a Better World” adventure by talking with them about leadership and being a woman in government. These girls will be among the first female Scouts in the country when they earn their Arrow of Light awards this year.

I also attended two Eagle Scout Courts of Honor. In Boxborough, after 12 years in Scouting, Christopher Dove became an Eagle Scout. In Harvard, Ethan Shipman, Ethan Graham, and Dylan Molnar, and Yohhan Kumarasinghe earned their Eagle Scouts ranks.

Community Conversation in Acton

In Acton, I attended a discussion hosted by Acton-Boxborough United Way and AB Cares on mental health and suicide prevention. We heard from experts on mental health and social work, including the Chair of Counseling and Psychological Services for Acton-Boxborough Regional High School. A few weeks later, an article in the Boston Globe profiled the community through the lens of the recent suicides by young people in the two towns. This is a difficult issue to address and discuss, and I support the school district’s and the community’s collaborative efforts to expand and improve mental health and counseling services for young people in the towns.

ROAR Meeting

I had a productive meeting with leaders from the Lunenburg-based organization Resources for Opioid Awareness and Recovery (ROAR). We discussed state funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment, and how ROAR could grow to achieve their goals of raising awareness and providing support and resources to addicts and their families.

Holiday Events

In December, I attended the tree lighting and holiday stroll in downtown Ayer. The downtown area is undergoing an exciting revitalization, and it was great to celebrate the holidays with constituents and town officials, surrounded by the festive decorations. I also attended the Acton Area League of Women Voters’ annual Chat and Cheer. I enjoyed talking to new and longtime members, and discussing the accomplishments of the 190th Legislative Session.

Constituent Spotlight
Barbara Wheeler of Boxborough

Barbara Wheeler of Boxborough has been a poll volunteer since the 1980s, having moved to the town in 1978. Barbara’s four children grew up in town, and she says it was a joy for her to see them grow up and vote. The Acton-Boxborough Beacon profiled Barbara in November to spotlight her more than 30 years of service as a volunteer.

At the State House

Carbon Pricing

I was invited to speak on a panel at Tufts University in December, hosted by the youth group Our Climate, about my carbon pricing legislation. I was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict, but I recorded an interview with Tufts student Patrick Yuzheng that was shown at the event. I’m so glad that young people are interested in carbon pricing, as their generation will be most affected by climate change.

Legislative Update

Bills passed by the Legislature in November and December 2018 and signed into law:

  • H.4051: An Act Relative to Counterfeit Airbag Prohibition – Sponsored by Rep. Benson – This bill increases the penalties for selling counterfeit airbags, which can fail to deploy correctly, injuring or killing drivers.
  • H.4086: An Act Relative to Consumer Protection from Security BreachesSponsored by Rep. Benson – This bill gives consumers more control over their credit data and provides free credit monitoring services after a data breach.
  • H.4947: An Act Relative to the Board of Assessors in the Town of Harvard – Sponsored by Rep. Benson and Sen. Eldridge This home rule petition will allow Harvard to restructure their Board of Assessors.
  • H.4888: An Act Protecting Locked Out Employees – This bill extends unemployment benefits for locked out has workers workers, currently in a months-long labor dispute with National Grid.
  • H.5005: An Act Further Providing for the Safety of the Commonwealth’s Natural Gas Infrastructure – This bill establishes new oversight and regulations on natural gas work in Massachusetts recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board, in reaction to the gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley in 2018.

Looking Ahead

The 191st Legislative Session began on January 2, and I was sworn in to a sixth term as the State Representative for the 37th Middlesex District. I am grateful to continue to be able to serve the District, and I will continue to do my best as your legislator.

Throughout January, I will continue drafting and editing the legislation I plan to file this session. I will once again be filing a carbon pricing bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and my step therapy bill to allow patients and their doctors to overrule insurance companies when they mandate trying cheaper medications before the prescribed treatments.

As bills are filed throughout the next few weeks, please contact my office at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or 617-722-2140 to let me know which legislation you support and would like me to cosponsor. You can visit MALegislature.gov to search by keyword or sponsor, and to follow the legislation being filed.

Sincerely