Massachusetts Legislature Passes Child Wellness Legislation

The following is a media release from Senate President Karen Spilka’s office submitted to SOURCE media.

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BOSTON – Today, November 20, Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka along with their colleagues in the House and Senate passed legislation supporting the health and wellness of children across the Commonwealth.

This bill aims to break down silos of service to better address the complex health and wellness needs specific to the Commonwealth’s 1.4 million children.

The effort seeks to create a foundation for better access to services and more data to inform future policy, while supporting a holistic approach to children’s wellbeing.

“With this legislation the House continues to build on its session-long focus on child and adolescent wellbeing, and our work will help children across the Commonwealth grow into healthy and productive adults,” said House Speaker DeLeo (D – Winthrop). “This first step in our initiative will begin to develop a comprehensive support system for our most vulnerable children especially for foster children and the youth who face behavioral or complex medical issues. I thank Chair Benson, Chair Decker, and Rep. Muratore for their hard work on the conference report, and I appreciate the valuable contributions of Chairs Michlewitz, Gregoire, Cronin, and Vice-Chair Barber. I also want to thank our Senate partners especially Senate President Spilka and Chair Friedman for joining with us to support these policies.”

“As lawmakers, our number one job is to protect the most vulnerable among us, especially our children,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “I would like to thank my friend and colleague, Speaker DeLeo, for his leadership on this very important initiative. I’d also like to thanks Senator Cindy Friedman for her steadfast commitment to increasing access to mental health and health care services for children, and congratulate all the conferees, including Senator Cyr and Senator Tarr, for their thoughtful and swift action on this bill.”

The bill now goes to the Governor.

“I am proud of the efforts of the Legislature this week to expand access to behavioral health services for children in Massachusetts,” said Representative Jennifer Benson, co-chair of the Joint Committee on
Health Care Financing. “This bill bridges the gap between our children and the services available to them, and gives parents the information they need to make informed health care decisions. I would like to thank Speaker DeLeo for prioritizing children’s health and wellness, and for his commitment to getting this legislation passed this session. Thank you to my co-chair Sen. Friedman, and the other conferees for working
together on this important legislation that is going to benefit so many families in the Commonwealth.”

“There are several barriers to access for children in the Commonwealth who are in need of behavioral health ervices, and this legislation takes several steps to address them,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-
Arlington), co-chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “I’m especially proud that this comprehensive bill requires provider network directories to be more transparent and include accurate, up-to-
date information to help connect children with the mental health providers that they need. I want to acknowledge Senate President Spilka for putting mental health initiatives at the forefront of our legislative agenda this session as well as sincerely thank Rep. Benson and all of the conferees for their hard work on this issue and their commitment to improving children’s behavioral health services in our state.”

The legislation seeks to address child wellness in the following eight areas:

  1. Secures healthcare benefits for foster children until the age of 26, making it easier for this vulnerable population to access to MassHealth benefits they are entitled at minimal cost to the Commonwealth. It codifies the practice for Massachusetts in the event of change on the federal level to the Affordable Care Act.
  2. Requires insurance companies to maintain accurate and accessible provider directories for health plans. The provision directs companies to make the directories available without requiring users to create a new online account or profile. The directory must be updated frequently to ensure the information is correct. Insurance companies must take steps to make the directors user-friendly for individuals with disabilities and limited English proficiency. Establishes a task force to develop recommendations to ensure the accurate electronic posting of directories headed by the Commissioner of Insurance.
  3. Creates childhood behavioral health centers of excellence via a pilot program that designates three regional centers to act as clearinghouses to connect families, providers, and educators to services and training opportunities. Requires the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to report on progress and impact after one year of implementation.
  4. Requires the Heath Policy Commission to conduct analysis within the next year of children with medical complexity to analyze costs and population characteristics of this group in order to develop
    recommendations about how to serve this unique population.
  5. Establishes a task force to study pediatric behavioral health screening tools.
  6. Creates a special commission to examine the pediatric workforce to address pediatric provider availability and adequacy. The Commission would recommend strategies for increasing the pipeline of pediatric providers and expanding access to practicing providers.
  7. Charges a 17-member special commission to review school-based health centers for the purpose of strengthening, improving, and considering ways to replicate best practices across the state.
  8. Create special commission chaired by the Child Advocate to review and make recommendations on mandated reporting to improve responses to child abuse and neglect.

Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

Susan Petroni Framingham Source Editor Email: editor@FraminghamSource.com Phone: 508-315-7176

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