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House leaders unveil children’s wellness initiative

July 29, 2019

BOSTON (AP) — House leaders unveiled wide-ranging legislation on Monday that calls for improved access to critical health care services for children in Massachusetts, with a focus on those who are in the state’s foster care system or have severe behavioral issues.

The House planned to debate and vote on the measure later this week, before the start of the Legislature’s summer recess, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said. If passed it would still require Senate approval when lawmakers return to the Statehouse in the fall.

Key provisions in the initiative, which bundles several proposals filed earlier by lawmakers, include the creation of three regional centers in the state where parents can receive guidance on accessing treatment for their child’s mental health or behavioral needs.

DeLeo said he and other legislators hear frequently from constituents who are frustrated and confused — often to the point of tears — after being unable to find treatment for their children during a crisis.

“They have made numerous calls to various people to try to get their child help and they have been very unsuccessful,” the Winthrop Democrat said. “After they have called, I have tried to help out and I have been just as frustrated as they were trying to find out where their child can get help, particularly with the mental health aspect.”

The Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, which represents insurance providers, praised what they called compromise language in the bill that would require insurers to make available online accurate and frequently updated lists of health care providers within their networks. The directories would include notices of any providers who have left the network, stopped practicing or are no longer accepting new patients.

The legislation also seeks to prevent children who have aged out of the state’s foster care system from falling through cracks in health care, by ensuring they can keep their current health coverage until they turn 26, as other children who are on their parents’ private insurance plans can now do.

“We want to make sure we level the playing field as much as possible from a health perspective,” said Rep. Jennifer Benson, a Lunenburg Democrat and House chair of the Health Care Financing Committee.

Under another provision of the bill, the Health Policy Commission, a state agency that researches health care trends and costs, would be with conducting a study of how the health care system can best serve children with multiple or complex medical conditions.

House leaders said they could not immediately provide an estimate of what the legislation might cost to implement.

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