COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON 02133
Senator Joan B. Lovely
2nd Essex District
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 27, 2022
Senate Passes Bill to Increase Access to COVID-19 Testing, Vaccines, and Masks
Bill includes several measures to enhance vaccine equity, extends popular COVID measures, including outdoor dining
BOSTON– On Wednesday, the Massachusetts State Senate passed a $76 million plan to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and its variants by providing residents with greater access to tests, vaccines, and masks, prioritizing communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as frontline workers. The plan also provides increased flexibility for unemployment insurance recipients to address overpayments of pandemic unemployment benefits and funds an expanded multi-lingual campaign to notify unemployment claimants of their legal rights. Much of the funding of the bill is expected to be eligible for reimbursement by the federal government.
“Today’s investments reflect the Senate’s commitment to center equity in the state’s ongoing pandemic response,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “In addition to maintaining public health, key aspects of this bill, like the distribution of masks, will ensure that our COVID mitigation strategy is fair. Teachers, hospital staff, other front-line professionals, artists and cultural institutions should not be expected to pay out of their own pockets for masks. Such basic protections are essential to doing one’s job and providing them will give a small but vital relief. I thank my colleagues in the Senate for their support, as well as Speaker Mariano and my partners in the House for their action on this legislation, and I look forward to seeing it signed into law.”
“Today, we affirmed that as COVID-19 and its variants continue to impact Massachusetts and our nation, our residents and those entities protecting us will receive the support they need to safeguard our health and well-being,” said Senator Joan B. Lovely (D-Salem). “I am proud to work alongside my Senate colleagues to unanimously pass a comprehensive bill that takes additional steps to support and promote our Commonwealth’s COVID-19 infrastructure by making critical investments in our healthcare sector, K-12 schools, childcare and congregate care facilities, and communities. This bill provides critical funding for testing, vaccine availability and essential personal protective equipment. I would like to thank Senate President Karen Spilka, Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues, Vice Chair Cindy Friedman and Senator Jo Comerford for their leadership in moving this legislation through the Senate.”
Senator Lovely sponsored an amendment that was adopted, which extends the implementation of cost disclosure agreements in the Patients First Act from January 1, 2022 to July 31, 2022. The law requires health care providers to provide prospective patients with certain cost and insurance information to reduce the incidence of surprise medical bills. Since the passage of this provision, the federal surprise billing law passed which also imposes new requirements on health care providers. Given that our healthcare system is currently overwhelmed by COVID-19 and its variants, this amendment will give providers more time to comply with the requirements and allow a thorough evaluation of the interaction between the state and federal law requirements.
“With the passage of today’s bill, the Senate confronts the challenges brought upon us by the Omicron surge and prioritizes urgently needed additional resources to expand access to rapid testing, masks, vaccines and boost our COVID-19 response efforts,” said State Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Thank you to my colleagues in the Senate for their input and collaboration on this bill, and especially to Senate President Spilka for her leadership and Senators Friedman and Comerford for their important contributions, as we help our most vulnerable populations and continue to navigate through this pandemic.”
“I am deeply grateful to the Senate President and Chair Rodrigues for their tenacious leadership on a bill that centers and drives forward pro-active, much-needed public health guidance, public health best practices, and equity. Today the Senate is acting decisively and strategically to protect the most vulnerable among us,” said Senator Jo M. Comerford (D-Northampton), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Covid-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management.
“I’m proud that this bill makes targeted investments in community organizations that are working hard to get more residents vaccinated and keep them protected from severe illness due to COVID-19,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), Senate Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness Management “This bill also begins to address the growing needs of hospitals as they continue to respond to the challenges brought on by this pandemic and the latest surge of the Omicron variant. Thank you to my colleagues in the Senate for expediting this bill so that much-needed funding can go to those in need.”
The legislation includes a $50 million investment to further increase the availability and encourage usage of both testing and vaccination throughout the state. This allocation includes $7 million to assist community organizations promoting vaccine awareness and education in disproportionately impacted communities and $5 million to expand the capacity of community health centers to test and vaccinate, including funding to hire additional staff. Notably, $5 million is specifically allocated for increasing vaccination rates among five through eleven-year-olds, an age group now eligible to be vaccinated but whose vaccination rates remain low in comparison to older residents. The bill also establishes a grant program, in consultation with the Massachusetts Cultural Council, for cultural institutions to help promote vaccine awareness and education.
The bill also allocates $25 million for the state to purchase and distribute high-quality masks in Massachusetts, with priority given to education and health care workers.
In response to reports that the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) is seeking to collect overpayments in pandemic unemployment benefits that were paid to some Massachusetts residents through no fault of their own, the bill provides funding for the DUA to conduct a multi-lingual, easy-to-understand public information campaign to notify claimants of their legal rights. The bill also extends the period during which DUA can reconsider a determination of overpayment and requires that the department produce a comprehensive report detailing the status of overpayments.
The bill also extends the authorization for several COVID-19 emergency measures adopted earlier in the pandemic, such as those related to health services in assisted living facilities, liability protections for health care providers, remote notaries, flexibility for local governments and non-profits to hold meetings virtually, outdoor dining and beer, wine and cocktails to-go. Importantly, the bill also requires the secretary of health and human services to develop a vaccine equity plan and directs the department of public health to publicly post guidance on effective mask usage and recommended testing, quarantine and isolation periods. Finally, the bill sets the date for this year’s state primary election on Tuesday, September 6, 2022.
With a version of this legislation having previously passed the House of Representatives, both the House and Senate will now work to reconcile the bill.