By Bob Katzen

The House 155-0, approved a bill designed to make mental health care more accessible in the Bay State. Provisions include the implementation of the nationwide 988 hotline to access 24/7 suicide prevention and behavioral health crisis services; a public awareness campaign on the state’s red flag laws that limit access to guns for people at risk of hurting themselves or others; creation of online portals that provide access to real-time data on youth and adults seeking mental health and substance use services, including a function that allows health care providers to easily search and find open beds; giving the state additional tools to enforce existing parity laws which are aimed at providing equal benefits for physical and mental health treatment; and requiring insurance coverage of critical behavioral health services.

“Everyone deserves access to quality mental health services, yet far too many people face unnecessary barriers to care,” said Rep. Adrian Madaro (D-East Boston), House Chair of the Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery Committee. “This bill reaffirms the House’s commitment to increasing access to behavioral health care across Massachusetts. For too long, the healthcare system has not treated behavioral health as equal to physical health, creating obstacles in addressing the mental health crisis, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. That’s why this timely piece of legislation makes critical steps toward prioritizing mental health services for people across the commonwealth, including our youth who have been acutely affected, and those who face challenges in getting the care they need. These policies reflect our strong belief that behavioral health care is essential.”

“I’m proud of the legislation passed by the House today that builds on our long-standing efforts to advance important reforms and substantial investments that are aimed at improving our behavioral health care delivery system,” said Speaker of the House Ron Mariano (D-Quincy). “From addressing the behavioral health crisis that our young people are currently experiencing, to our efforts to alleviate emergency department boarding, to provisions that will bring us closer to treating mental and physical health equally, this legislation will benefit all residents in the commonwealth when accessing critical health care.”

The Senate approved its own version of the bill in November. A House-Senate conference committee will likely hammer out a compromised version.

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