Rep. Benson Helps Pass Child Health & Wellness Legislation

Rep. Benson co-chaired the conference committee that negotiated the legislation that will provide health insurance to foster children, require insurance companies to keep accurate provider directories, and examine issues of pediatric health care access and quality.

(BOSTON) – This week, Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg), along with her colleagues in the House and Senate, passed legislation supporting the health and wellness of children in Commonwealth. This bill aims to better address the complex health and wellness needs specific to the Commonwealth’s 1.4 million children. The effort creates a foundation for better access to services and more data to inform future policy, while supporting a comprehensive approach to children’s health care.

After the House and Senate passed bills with differing language, a conference committee was appointed, led by Representative Benson and Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), the House and Senate Chairs of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. The conference committee filed their report on Monday afternoon, and the legislation was passed and laid before the Governor on Wednesday.

“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 Robert A. 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 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.”

“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 services, and this legislation takes several steps to address them,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman, 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 addresses child wellness in the following eight areas:

  1. Secures healthcare benefits for foster children until the age of 26, giving this vulnerable population access to MassHealth benefits at minimal cost to the Commonwealth. It codifies this policy for Massachusetts in the event of changes at the federal level to the Affordable Care Act.
  2. Requires insurance companies to maintain accurate and accessible provider directories for health plans. The directories must be updated frequently to ensure accurate information. Insurance companies must make the directories user-friendly for individuals with disabilities and limited English proficiency. A task force headed by the Commissioner of Insurance will be established to develop recommendations to ensure the accurate electronic posting of directories.
  3. Creates childhood behavioral health centers of excellence via a pilot program that designates three regional centers 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 an analysis of children with medical complexities to review 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. Creates a special commission chaired by the Child Advocate to review and make recommendations on mandated reporting to improve responses to child abuse and neglect.