Testimony of Secretary John Polanowicz
Executive Office of Health and Human Services
Joint Hearing of the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means
February 28, 2013
Good morning Senator Flanagan, Representative Koczera and members of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means. I am John Polanowicz, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and I am honored to be here before you, representing the 15 state agencies and more than 22,000 employees that comprise the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
I have already had the opportunity to speak and meet with many of you since I was sworn in as Secretary last month. I look forward to sitting down with each of you over the coming weeks to discuss my vision for HHS and the areas the governor has asked me to address.
I know that many of you have received calls from your constituents with concerns about the integrity of the programs at some of our agencies. I want you to know that I also hear those concerns loud and clear. I took this job because I am confident I can make a difference in the way we do business and I know that we can always be better stewards of taxpayer resources.
For me, program integrity is paramount.
And I hope that by the time I’m done with my time as secretary, many of those calls you receive from your constituents will instead be positive.
Our mission as a secretariat is to improve the quality of life and health for all people, including children, families, veterans, elders and people with disabilities across the Commonwealth. We work to improve access to quality health care, create safe homes and communities, promote self-sufficiency and success, and provide community based supports to people in need.
Governor Deval Patrick’s Fiscal Year 14 budget makes important investments in these programs and reflects a steadfast commitment to the millions of people we serve.
Our ability to strengthen and protect these programs for generations to come hinges on the success of the revenue initiatives put forward by the governor.
The governor has proposed additional revenues to support these programs and high-yield public investments in education, in transportation and in innovation. The revenue will be raised in a manner that is comprehensive, that improves the simplicity and fairness of our tax system, and ensures our economic competitiveness.
The governor has also put forward a revenue plan that addresses critical public health issues of smoking and obesity that will lead to increased wellness and health for our children and families.
Let me be clear that we are not asking for revenue without addressing the need for reform.
I know there are ways to improve the way things run at HHS. Before starting as Secretary, I served as a leader of some of our state’s hospitals and helped orchestrate necessary financial turnarounds to get them back on solid footing. I am an operations guy, and I know there are ways to improve operations at HHS to create greater efficiencies, ensure our public safety, and restore the public trust in our critical safety net programs.
Today I am happy to discuss some of the successes we have achieved, continued challenges we face, and proposed reforms I have put forth, and explain how the governor’s budget will help Massachusetts remain at the forefront of providing quality health and human services.
In the wake of the NECC meningitis outbreak, one of our top priorities has been strengthening pharmacy oversight to ensure that patients and families can feel secure that they are receiving safe and effective medications each and every time.
The governor’s budget enhances our public health safety and pharmacy oversight, investing $1 million in the Board of Pharmacy. This will allow additional inspectors to be hired to continue our unannounced pharmacy inspections across the state. The budget also supports more than 30 new positions at the Department of Public Health to assure its capacity to protect public health and safety, and fully execute its regulatory responsibilities.
These investments build on the enhanced pharmacy oversight regulations we put in place and the legislation the governor proposed to further strengthen our oversight. These changes make patient safety paramount and will help fill the gaps in compounding pharmacy monitoring that allowed NECC to operate in the shadows. Together we can ensure that the tragic events of last fall never happen again.
Another top priority is strengthening the integrity of our safety net services.
Currently, one in eight people in Massachusetts are served through our critical programs that provide access to food and cash assistance to help struggling families meet their basic needs.
At the Department of Transitional Assistance, I’ve given interim Commissioner Monahan a mandate to make necessary changes to the policies and procedures at the Department to ensure that these benefits are available for only those who are truly eligible.
Under the budget, DTA will receive $4 million to implement the EBT reform legislation signed last summer, to prevent fraud and abuse, block card usage at prohibited establishments and increase investigation and enforcement of SNAP trafficking.
This is an area where program integrity is critical.
That’s why are actively working to address the issues identified in the Inspector General’s report, as part of the interim commissioner’s plan.
The governor’s budget also includes resources to enhance MassHealth’s integrity systems, in one of our largest programs.
This funding will allow us to employ one of the nation’s first predictive modeling systems for Medicaid to identify fraudulent claims and billing on the front end.
This will ensure that the Commonwealth’s health care programs are best in class.
The people of Massachusetts are proud that we charted the way forward on health care reform and we have the highest rates of health care coverage in the country to show for it.
Thanks to Governor Patrick’s leadership in implementing universal health care, we became a national model for expanding access, but increasing health care costs remain an underlying challenge.
The governor’s budget includes resources to support the continued implementation of the health care cost containment legislation signed last summer, which will result in billions in savings for Massachusetts’ families, businesses and government.
The proposed budget will also fund implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Massachusetts. Changes at MassHealth will help streamline and enhance the coverage we offer, while providing stable coverage to more low income residents. This expansion will make Massachusetts eligible for increased federal funds and will result in overall savings to the Commonwealth.
The budget includes a $5 million investment in Department of Mental Health programs that promote public safety and increase public awareness that mental health treatment is available and effective.
This will fund mobile crisis teams, mental health consultation to schools and child psychiatric access.
We are also looking forward to building on the governor’s efforts to eliminate youth violence with $10 million to fully fund the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative.
And our commitment to our Community First principles is clear in this budget. Community First is rooted in the firm belief that elders and people with disabilities have the right to learn, work and socially engage in their community in the least restrictive setting.
The budget supports these principles by moving away from institutionalized care and towards community placements and state of the art care.
Through the vast array of programs at HHS, and the investments made in the governor’s budget, we can further empower and support the individuals and families we serve across the Commonwealth.
But these investments are not possible without the governor’s revenue proposals.
By supporting the governor’s growth agenda, funding these key investments, and ensuring the integrity of our programs, we can keep Massachusetts on a growth trajectory. This will help our children, our families and businesses compete and win in a global economy.
I look forward to working with you and your colleagues to achieve these goals.