Friedman votes on bills to promote health care access, support unions, and end child marriage

BOSTON – Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) recently joined her colleagues in voting on legislation that would increase access to mental health care for patients in Massachusetts and bring the state one step closer toward mental health parity. She also voted in favor of legislation that would end child marriage in the Commonwealth and voted against an amendment offered by the Governor on a bill that protects a public unions’ ability to effectively represent all workers in labor agreements.

Keeping with the Senate’s commitment to increase and streamline access to health care, the Senate recently passed legislation spearheaded by Friedman that would ensure consumers have the best information available to meet their health needs. The legislation would require insurers’ provider network directories to be more transparent and include the most up-to-date list of participating doctors and specialists and their services.

Several barriers to care exist for individuals in need of behavioral health services in Massachusetts, including, in part, the lack of accurate, up-to-date information listed on current provider network directories. More often than not, these directories – often criticized as nothing more than “ghost networks” – list providers that are no longer in business, do not accept a patient’s insurance, are not taking new patients altogether, or provide inaccurate information entirely. This barrier keeps patients from accessing the care they need, frequently forcing them to abandon treatment.

“Taking action to eliminate ghost networks in Massachusetts is long overdue. It’s extremely frustrating and shameful that individuals seeking mental health care in Massachusetts are often unable to find accurate, reliable information about available doctors through their insurance carrier,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), co-chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “I applaud the collaborative effort among elected officials, healthcare providers, patient advocates and insurers in getting this done so that we can ensure patients get the care they need in an efficient and timely manner.”

The bill would also create a task force to study and recommend further improvements to provider network directories — particularly information about behavioral health providers. This legislation was the result of months of collaboration between Friedman and several of her colleagues as well as insurers, providers, patient advocates and other stakeholders. The bill is now before the House for consideration.

Friedman also joined her colleagues in rejecting a further amendment offered by Governor Baker to legislation that would help protect a public unions’ ability to effectively represent all workers in labor agreements. The legislation follows last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case Janus v. AFSCME which weakened the ability of public sector unions to advocate for workers — both members and non-members — in contractual and collective bargaining activities.

The bill would enable public sector unions to charge reasonable fees to non-members for direct costs related to representation. The legislation also ensures the union has access to appropriate worker contact information and codifies a union’s ability to meet with newly hired employees on worksites. The bill now returns to the Governor’s desk for his consideration.

Finally, Friedman voted on legislation that would end child marriage in Massachusetts. Minors who marry adults often lack the resources or means to protect themselves from abusive or coercive relationships. State records show that more 1,221 children – some as young as 14 – were married in Massachusetts between 2000 and 2016. The bill would prohibit a person from marrying an individual under the age of 18 years-old. The bill passed unanimously and is now before the House for consideration.