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Re Globe SSI Series: "When did providing health insurance to kids with disabilities become a bad thing?"

Re Globe SSI Series: "When did providing health insurance to kids with disabilities become a bad thing?"

December 15, 2010

Two of our close partners, Linda Landry of the Disability Law Center and Sarah Anderson at Greater Boston Legal Services wrote this response to the Boston Globe series on SSI. Here's their guest post:

When did providing health insurance to kids with disabilities become a bad thing?

After all, the state is just celebrating the recent news that in 2010, 99.8% of Massachusetts children had health insurance coverage. This includes kids with disabilities who receive SSI. This insurance is provided on sliding scale, starting with free coverage for the poorest children and families. Providing access to health care for children makes good public policy sense. Massachusetts has worked for decades to achieve this goal of insuring all children. Access to appropriate health screenings and treatment may prevent the development or worsening of conditions that will later prevent a child from becoming a tax paying adult citizen of the state. It's easy to discount invisible disabilities like mental health conditions, but these deserve identification and treatment as well. Thanks to advances in medicine, it is increasingly possible to identify and treat some mental health conditions earlier in life, This can help children maximize their potential and mitigate the effect of potentially lifelong disabling conditions in adulthood. The goal is not to label children as disabled, but rather to identify potential barriers to functioning and provide access to appropriate means of addressing the condition. In some cases, this means medication. Indeed, some conditions, like speech problems must be treated early for the best effect to avoid the formation of less effective neurological pathways that may be more difficult and more expensive to treat later.

This week’s Globe series on SSI leaves the impression that it is easy to qualify children for SSI disability benefits and that parents must medicate their children to qualify. Neither of these is true. The SSI program for children requires medical evidence of a diagnosis, but to get benefits a child must show that she is functioning at least 50 - 70% below what is expected of same age children without disabilities in two areas of childhood functioning.

The SSI program does not require children to take medication in order to qualify for benefits. However, the Social Security Administration, SSA, does want to see that children are involved in treatment that is appropriate for the condition and the individual circumstances. This is one way SSA works to prevent applicants from receiving benefits for conditions that, when treated, are not disabling. The Globe series leaves the impression that there is something wrong with providing benefits to children with invisible disabilities like mental health conditions or DHD. But, no diagnosis in and of itself, qualifies as a disability for SSI, without an investigation how the condition affects the child’s ability to function - at home, at school, or with their friends. It’s time to celebrate health care for all kids, not bash the program that makes it possible for kids with disabilities to get the care they need.

Linda Landry, Disability Law Center and
Sarah Anderson, Greater Boston Legal Services