The Legislature recently passed the Child Wellness Bill, which provides a unique opportunity for the Commonwealth to support students that are challenged with complex health and wellness needs. This bill addresses child wellness on several different fronts, including securing healthcare benefits for foster children until the age of 26, and creating childhood behavioral health centers. I am pleased this legislation will further our efforts to ensure a bright and productive future for all kids in Massachusetts.
The bill’s components are highlighted below:
Keeping with the Legislature’s commitment to increase and streamline access to health care, the Children’s Health and Wellness bill will ensure that consumers have the best information available to meet their health needs. Several barriers to care exist for children in need of behavioral health services, partially due to the lack of accurate, up-to-date information listed on provider network directories. More often than not, these directories – often criticized as “ghost networks” – list providers that are no longer in business, do not accept a patient’s insurance, are not taking new patients, or provide inaccurate information. These obstacles keep patients from accessing the care they need, frequently forcing them to abandon seeking treatment.
To mitigate this barrier to access, this legislation requires insurers’ provider network directories to be more transparent and include the most up-to-date list of participating doctors and specialists and their services. The legislation also forms a task force to study and recommend further improvements to provider directories – particularly information about behavioral health providers.
In addition, this legislation addresses issues related to health care access for children who have aged out of the foster care system by automatically enrolling them in MassHealth. Under this bill, individuals under the age of 26 who were previously under Department of Children and Families (DCF) custody, or in foster care when they turned 18 years old, would automatically receive the benefit of MassHealth coverage.
The legislation also directs the Health Policy Commission (HPC), in consultation with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), the Department of Public Health (DPH), and the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA), to conduct a study and analysis of children with medically complex needs in the Commonwealth. The analysis would include information on health care coverage, access to services, services utilized, and the cost of caring for children with medical complexities.
Additionally, the legislation establishes a pilot program creating three regional Childhood Behavioral Health Centers of Excellence. Each center will act as a resource for families, clinicians, and school districts, with comprehensive information on services in the area for minors in early childhood through adolescence. Each center will maintain updated lists of available pediatric providers, and a staffed telephone number and email address for parents to request information.
The bill addresses several other pressing pediatric health care issues by creating special commissions on the pediatric provider workforce, school-based health centers, and mandated reporter laws, as well as establishing a task force on pediatric behavioral health screening. More information can be found here.