For Immediate Release - August 06, 2015

Health Policy Commission Receives Funding in State Budget for Behavioral Health Pilots to Curb Opioid Abuse

Funding will improve patient care, reduce long term expenditures, and guide future health policy development

BOSTON – Thursday, August 6, 2015 – The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission (HPC) recently received more than $1 million in funds from the FY2016 state budget to combat opioid abuse in the Commonwealth. The HPC will use the funds to develop and administer pilots aimed at supporting families with Substance-Exposed Newborns, driving behavioral health integration within HPC’s Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) certification program, and developing a Behavioral Health Triage Program in the greater Quincy area. Behavioral health has been at the forefront of HPC’s policy development and is part of many key initiatives and policy areas of HPC work.


“The initiatives outlined in the budget will allow HPC to make a positive impact on patient care and have the potential to reduce overall healthcare spending,” said David Seltz, HPC Executive Director. “We look forward to implementing the pilots and studying their effect on the Commonwealth – with the potential to expand and serve more patients.”


The HPC received $500,000 from the FY16 budget to administer a substance-exposed newborns program targeting neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS is a set of symptoms resulting from withdrawal after birth and is most commonly associated with in-utero exposure to opioids. Marked by tremors, irritability, high-pitched and excessive crying, diarrhea, and occasionally seizures, and resulting in feeding difficulty, respiratory complications, and low birthweight, NAS often significantly extends hospital stays for affected babies (up to 90 days after birth).


Nationally, NAS is a growing problem. Particularly in the Commonwealth, incidence has increased by more than fivefold in the last decade, and was triple the national average in 2009. Moreover, because treatment protocols are not standardized, cost and quality of care varies widely across the state; hospital charges range from approximately $67,000 to $93,000 dollars per infant, and emerging best practices suggest that quality actually improves when less intensive interventions are used (e.g., “rooming in” with the mother rather than using the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).


The HPC seeks to identify and disseminate best practices through this pilot funding. The HPC will implement a fully integrated model of postnatal supports at up to three regional sites and award funding to sites through a competitive process. The goal of the program is to accelerate adoption and standardization of emerging practices that both improve quality and reduce spending across the Commonwealth.


Additionally included within this reserve is $100,000 for primary care Narcan training, which allows the HPC to develop a technical assistance program to improve and expand the capacity and ability of primary care providers to prescribe Narcan, a drug which helps prevent deaths in the instance of an opioid overdose. According to data released this week by the Department of Public Health, more than 1,000 people died from overdoses of heroin and other opioids in 2014 in Massachusetts, an increase of 3.3 percent compared with 2013, and a striking increase of 33 percent more than in 2012.


“Tackling the opioid abuse epidemic requires a multi–pronged approach,” said Marylou Sudders, Secretary of Health and Human Services and HPC Board Member. “These innovative pilots, which align with the recommended strategies from Governor Baker’s Opioid Working Group, will test new care delivery models and provide additional supports for health care providers to address the chronic medical disease that is opioid addiction.”


Also as part of the FY16 budget, the HPC received a $250,000 behavioral health integration reserve to accelerate and support behavioral health integration within the HPC’s PCMH certification program. The HPC is solidifying the framework for this program and will contract with National Committee for Quality Assurance to facilitate its work and reduce administrative burden on providers and physicians.


Finally, the HPC received $500,000 to develop a pilot behavioral health field triage program in the greater Quincy area. This program will allow the HPC to work with specially trained emergency medical services providers to implement a model of field triage for behavioral health patients, to help safely and appropriately identify and treat these patients in an out-of-hospital setting.



The HPC is an independent state agency that monitors reform in the health care delivery and payment systems and develops policies to reduce overall cost growth while improving the quality of patient care. To learn more, please visit or follow us on Twitter @Mass_HPC.