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Former Mass. Mental Health Commissioner Says Private Insurance Fails Kids

BOSTON — In the third story of our week-long series, “Are the Kids All Right?,” we looked at how pediatricians are using a new questionnaire to screen children for mental health problems.

“It doesn’t tell you your child has attention deficit disorder just because you answer ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Is your child easily distracted?’ ” explains pediatrician Greg Hagan, of Cambridge Health Alliance. “But it gives a pediatrician the opportunity to ask a lot more questions, to drill down into the child’s behavior.”

Marylou Sudders (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Marylou Sudders (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Still, Massachusetts often doesn’t have the kinds of services needed to take care of kids who have mental health problems. Part of the reason for that is a shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists.

But many people may be surprised to learn that children on public insurance, such as MassHealth, have better benefits than kids on private plans.

Marylou Sudders, the former commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health, says she would do something drastic if her child had mental health problems: “If I had a child with a serious emotional disorder in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, I would do everything I could to have them on Medicaid rather than on private commercial insurance.”

Sudders even says she’d quit her current job if that resulting drop in her income would qualify her child for public health insurance. Sudders spoke with WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer Wednesday about why she feels so strongly about this issue.

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