House readies wellness bill before August break

Legislation addresses child health concerns

BEFORE BREAKING FOR their unofficial August recess, House lawmakers will take up legislation aimed at finding answers for young people and parents in greatest need of medical care, including mental health care.

With a relatively modest price tag of about $500,000, the bill seeks to better streamline existing services rather than create new treatment options.

Coming on the heels of a weeks-late annual budget bill, the House’s action this week could serve political purposes in addition to its policy goals by quieting complaints about the recent lack of activity from Beacon Hill.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo announced the omnibus bill at a Monday morning press conference attended by Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, of Boston, the chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means; Rep. Jennifer Benson, of Lunenburg, the House chairwoman of the Health Care Financing Committee; Rep. Claire Cronin, of Easton, the House chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee; Rep. Danielle Gregoire, of Marlborough, the House chairwoman of the State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee; and Rep. Christine Barber, of Somerville, the House vice chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee.

The bill proposes a lot of different initiatives with a common theme of helping connect children and young adults who grew up in foster care with available, quality health care services.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than going through and trying to find the right provider for your child, and calling through and finding out they’re no longer accepting patients, or they’ve moved offices,” said Benson, a Lunenburg Democrat. “So making sure we have accurate, timely information is vitally important.”

Some of the provisions are similar to a bill passed unanimously by the Senate last week that would require insurers to provide accurate information on the providers in their health plans.

In a statement, the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans applauded DeLeo and said the House bill includes a compromise struck between providers, advocates, and insurers to improve provider directories.

The bill due for consideration on the House floor would also help parents find behavioral health services, according to DeLeo, who said finding mental health care can be particularly frustrating.

“We often hear that families do not know who to turn to when they have a child with behavioral health needs,” DeLeo said. “Through a pilot program, we will designate regional childhood behavioral health centers of excellence, which will serve as much-needed sources of information for parents, educators, and providers on pediatric behavioral health services and resources within their own community.”

In another area, the bill would codify into state law existing policies at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that enable former foster children to continue to receive MassHealth until the age of 26. According to a legislative aide, the bill would also smooth the process for those young adults to continue on the subsidized health insurance program.

Much of the cost of the legislation, billed as the “children’s wellness initiative,” would be covered by MassHealth, while the behavioral health centers would cost around $500,000 and would be funded through a midyear spending bill, said Michlewitz.

Two years ago, lawmakers allowed funding for a statewide program called the prevention and wellness trust fund to lapse. The House bill would be much less expensive than that initiative but takes a somewhat similar approach of improving the health of Massachusetts residents by focusing on programs outside direct clinical care.

“Whether for children or adults, we have a tendency to work in silos, a practice that undermines the individual wellness and collective progress,” said DeLeo, who said the bill seeks a “seamless integration of health and wellness services.”

The legislation would direct the Department of Children and Families to report on the measures it is taking to improve the foster care system, and it would direct the Health Policy Commission to study how the state serves children with complex medical issues.

Cronin discussed the difficulties her neighbors faced when their child was born with numerous, complex medical problems, and later developed kidney cancer, exacerbating those other issues.

“When you’re dealing with a child with all these issues, the parents sometimes feel isolated. They’re oftentimes trying to figure out who’s driving the bus,” said Cronin, referring to the array of medical professionals that may work together to provide care to one patient.

The neighbor’s story has taken a positive turn, according to Cronin, who said she was “delighted to report” that the child has been in remission for two years and the mother is riding in the Pan Mass Challenge, a charity bike ride that raises money for cancer research.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.