Mental health access bill could reach Baker’s desk
Posted: 06/20/2022 17:34:33
Modified: 06/20/2022 17:34:13
BOSTON — A mental and behavioral health care access bill passed the Massachusetts House in a unanimous vote last week, and Representatives will now have just over six weeks to reconcile their plan. with his Senate counterpart if they hope to get a final version from the governor. Charlie Baker’s office by the end of official legislative sessions on July 31.
Rep. Adrian Madaro, House Committee Chair on Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery, said Massachusetts communities “are facing a behavioral health crisis” and the situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These are issues that affect our families, our loved ones, our neighbors, our friends and disproportionately our young people,” said Madaro, a Democrat from East Boston. “We have seen an alarming increase in the number of emergency department boardings for mental health issues and an increase in demand for services without a sufficient workforce to meet the need. The situation is compounded by persistent disparities and how behavioral health and physical health treatment services are covered.
The bill was approved by the House following moving remarks from Rep. Michael Kushmerek of Fitchburg, who recounted his parents’ struggles with mental health and addiction, and the lack of resources available to them.
“During decades of societal inaction, we have fundamentally failed to address and de-stigmatize behavioral health,” Kushmerek said. “All the while, insurance companies have reaped huge profits and while funding behavioral health as if it were an extracurricular summer camp activity.”
Nearly one in five Americans suffers from a mental health condition, Kushmerek said, and one in 13 people over the age of 12 suffers from a substance use disorder.
Thursday’s House vote came after the Senate unanimously passed a bill in November aimed at breaking down barriers to mental health care.
The two bills (H 4879, S 2584) share many features in common, which could become building blocks for final consensus legislation.
Both would require insurers to cover an annual mental health wellness exam. They each include measures to ensure compliance with existing mental health parity laws, though the bills differ in their approaches to doing so.
Both the House and Senate are seeking to combat so-called ER boarding, a longstanding problem that has reached crisis levels during the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients who are confined to an emergency room spend hours, days or more waiting there for a behavioral health bed where they can receive the care they need.
The two branches propose to create an online portal that would give providers access to data on residential patients and available psychiatric or drug treatment beds.
Madaro said the House bill also aims to focus on addressing the behavioral health needs of young people.
He said this included workforce recruitment and retention policies, language around the implementation of the new national 988 behavioral health helpline and a public awareness campaign. around the state’s “red flag” law that allows family or household members to petition the courts to temporarily revoke gun ownership rights. someone considered a danger.
The House passed several amendments before passing her bill, including Rep. Carole Fiola’s proposal requiring MassHealth to cover postpartum depression screenings by pediatricians for up to a year after the birth of a child. and Minority Leader Brad Jones’ amendment establishing a Student Mental Health Stakeholder Advisory Commission.
Different versions of House and Senate legislation are often considered “competing” bills, and the two branches can sometimes be far apart on their priorities or approaches. On mental health, leaders from both branches appear to be framing upcoming decisions on what will make it into final legislation in a collegial rather than competitive manner.
Prior to the release of the House bill, Speaker Ronald Mariano said his goal would be to “complement” the Senate bill and create “a comprehensive mental health program for our Commonwealth citizens”.
Senate Speaker Karen Spilka said Wednesday that she was “grateful” to the House for introducing a version of the bill and said its release brings the state “one step closer to transformation” of its mental health care delivery system.