Massachusetts House Introduces Child Wellness Initiative

Last week, the Massachusetts House of Representatives unanimously voted 156 to 0 to pass legislation supporting the health and wellness of children across the Commonwealth. This bill is one part of a multi-tiered initiative to address the specific needs of children and adolescents in an integrated fashion.

An Act Relative to Children’s Health and Wellness is part of the comprehensive, session-long House Children’s Wellness Initiative, which 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 make access to healthcare easier for vulnerable populations, eliminate barriers to care and formulate data-driven recommendations to improve service delivery and system coordination. The initiative supports a holistic approach that provides services early and often – ensuring that children grow to be healthier, happier and more productive adults.

The first bill in this initiative creates a foundation for better access to services and more data to inform future policy.  Among the provisions of the legislation is the requirement that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families report to the Legislature on its efforts to improve the Commonwealth’s foster care system.

“Today we’re taking a major step to make child and adolescent wellbeing a House session-long priority, beginning with this legislation,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, (D – Winthrop).  “The Commonwealth’s children deserve a comprehensive support system so they may grow to be healthier, happier and more productive adults. I thank Chairs Benson, Michlewitz, Gregoire and Cronin as well as Vice-Chair Barber for their hard work on these efforts, and I look forward to building on these themes as the session unfolds.”

“I am proud to have supported this landmark legislation, which will help provide access to resources for children and adolescents who may be facing a crisis,” said Representative RoseLee Vincent (D-Revere).  “I thank Speaker DeLeo, Chairwoman Benson and Vice-Chairwoman Barber for their leadership in crafting this bill, which will help families across the Commonwealth.”

“Nothing is more heartbreaking than talking to a constituent whose child is in crisis, but they’re having difficulty finding healthcare services in the complex system of providers, insurers, and resources,” said Health Care Financing Chair Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg). “By identifying and addressing these difficulties in this legislation, we are working to ensure that every child in the Commonwealth will be able to access high-quality services quickly and efficiently.”

“This legislation will ensure that the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children will receive the wellness services they deserve,” said Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means (D-Boston).

“I am proud of the House’s leadership and steadfast commitment to caring for our most vulnerable children,” said Judiciary Committee Chair Representative Claire Cronin (D-Easton). “This bill will assess the healthcare and wellness needs of children in the Commonwealth and expand access to services for these children and their families. This is a step forward to ensuring that all of our children have equal access to quality healthcare. ”

“Massachusetts is once again putting the health of our children at the top of our priority list,” said State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Danielle Gregoire (D-Marlborough).  “In Section 1 of this bill, we focus on both the mental and physical health of children, whose care has been entrusted to the Department of Children and Families by ensuring that they have insurance coverage until the age of 26, creating parity with other young people in our Commonwealth.  I am proud to have played a small part in today’s efforts and am looking forward to continuing our focus on children’s health as this legislative session moves forward.”

“Even with our strong healthcare system in Massachusetts, many people still have problems accessing care,” said Financial Services Vice-Chair Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville).  “When a family seeks healthcare or behavioral health providers, they often find a long list of providers who have moved, retired, or no longer accept patients. This bill requires that provider directories are accurate and accessible.  I appreciate Speaker DeLeo’s leadership and diligence on children’s health, to ensure that Massachusetts continues to be a leader on behalf of the Commonwealth’s children and families.”

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

  1. Requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to report on efforts to improve the foster care system in the Commonwealth, including steps it is taking to provide increased coverage in underserved regions, share relevant medical history with foster parents, and provide access to mental health supports and timely information on children in DCF custody who have died from abuse or neglect.  The report is due by October 15, 2019.

2. 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.

3. 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 use-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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. Establishes a task force to study pediatric behavioral health screening tools.

7. 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. 

8. Charges a 17-member special commission to review the Department of Public Health’s School-Based Health Center Program for the purpose of strengthening, improving, and considering ways to replicate best practices across the state.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

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