An Act Improving and Expanding Behavioral Health Services for Children in the Commonwealth
Legislation based on Report by Children's Hospital Boston and Mass. Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children
January 11, 2007
Legislation was filed today that if adopted would substantially expand children's access to mental health services and reform the state's mental health care system for children.
The bill - An Act Improving and Expanding Behavioral Health Services for Children in the Commonwealth - was filed by Representative Ruth B. Balser (D-Newton) in the House and Senator Steven Tolman (D-Brighton) in the Senate.
"The children of Massachusetts deserve a world class system of care to respond to their mental health needs," said Representative Balser. "More than 100,000 children do not receive the mental health services they require. Our efforts will begin to address this critical need."
The provisions of the bill are based on recommendations proposed by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC) and Children's Hospital Boston in their paper, "Children's Mental Health in the Commonwealth: The Time is Now." The paper describes a mental health care system that is "a complicated maze of fractured care, inadequate insurance coverage, programs too few and far between, and access defined by limitations in covered diagnoses and services."
"Expanding access to mental health care is an important component in the historic health care reform legislation enacted by the legislature last year," says Senator Tolman. "We know that mental health is an integral part of overall health, and it is unacceptable that 70 percent of our children do not receive the mental health services and treatment they need."
The main provisions of the bill would:
- Maximize insurance coverage for children's mental health care by creating true insurance coverage parity for mental health treatment and services and expanding MassHealth eligibility for mental health care to cover youth ages 19 to 21 years.
- Develop a more coherent state mental health care policy and improve coordination of mental health services by state agencies by formally designating the Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health as the lead agency in the delivery of mental health services to children and developing formal mechanisms for enhancing coordination of care delivery.
- Enhance children's access to early identification and prevention services by assuring that pediatricians regularly screen for mental and developmental disorders and funding mental health consultation and treatment services in preschool and early child care settings.
"I want to thank Representative Balser, Senator Tolman and other legislative sponsors for their bold vision," says Marylou Sudders, president of MSPCC and former state commissioner of mental health. "Through this legislation, they have recognized the need for fundamental reform of the mental health care system for children in Massachusetts."
"We cannot afford to fail in this effort," adds David DeMaso, MD, chief of Psychiatry at Children's. "Mental illness in children is more prevalent than leukemia, diabetes and AIDS combined. Thousands of kids and their families are suffering the consequences of a system that is failing our children."
MSPCC and Children's have joined with Health Care for All's Children's Health Access Coalition in driving a legislative campaign to advocate for these recommendations. The coalition consists of advocacy and community organizations, families, legal and mental health advocates, and health care providers who seek to eliminate fragmentation of the mental health care system and expand access to mental health care.
Founded in 1869 as a 20-bed hospital for children, Children's Hospital Boston today is the nation's leading pediatric medical center, the largest provider of health care to Massachusetts children, and the primary pediatric teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. In addition to 347 pediatric and adolescent inpatient beds and comprehensive outpatient programs, Children's houses the world's largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries benefit both children and adults. More than 500 scientists, including eight members of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 members of the Institute of Medicine and 10 members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Children's research community. For more information about the hospital, visit: www.childrenshospital.org/newsroom.
The Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC) is a private, non-profit agency dedicated to leadership in protecting and promoting the rights and well being of children and families through essential child welfare and mental health treatment, and effective public advocacy. Since 1878, MSPCC has provided services across Massachusetts designed to respond to the individual needs of infants, children, adolescents and their families. For more information about MSPCC, visit: www.mspcc.org.
Health Care for All is a Massachusetts-based, nationally recognized, non-profit organization dedicated to making affordable and quality health care available to everyone, regardless of income or status. We are particularly concerned about the most vulnerable members of society and advocate for the underinsured and uninsured. Our work combines policy analysis, information and referrals, public education, legislative advocacy and community organizing in an integrated approach aimed at building a grassroots movement for health care reform. Created in 1995, the Children's Health Access Coalition (CHAC) is a statewide coalition of over 50 organizations committed to ensuring that all Massachusetts children have access to affordable and comprehensive health care. For more information about HCFA and CHAC, visit: www.hcfama.org.
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