By Bob Katzen
The Senate 39-0, (House on a voice vote without a roll call), approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill designed to make mental health care more accessible in the Bay State.
Provisions include mandating coverage for an annual mental health wellness exam, comparable to an annual physical; 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; implementation of the nationwide 988 hotline to access 24/7 suicide prevention and behavioral health crisis services; mandating coverage and eliminating prior authorization for mental health acute treatment and stabilization services for adults and children; establishing an Office of Behavioral Health Promotion to coordinate all state initiatives that promote mental, emotional and behavioral health and wellness for residents; and creating an interim licensure level for licensed mental health counselors so that they can be reimbursed by insurance for their services and be eligible for state and federal grant and loan forgiveness programs.
“Today, the Massachusetts Legislature took vital strides toward transforming mental health care in Massachusetts,” said Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro), Senate chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. “By unanimously passing the Mental Health ABC Act, we affirm that mental health is just as essential as physical health and take a leap forward to ensure that all people in Massachusetts can access the mental health care they need and deserve.”
“Too many people in communities across the commonwealth struggle to get the mental, emotional and behavioral health care they deserve,” said Rep, Adrian Madaro (D-Boston), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. “This legislation helps reduce barriers to resources, support, and treatment residents need for their overall wellbeing. It enables enforcement of existing parity laws, enhances emergency response services and acute psychiatric care, develops programs to strengthen the workforce, and invests in mental health. Importantly, our legislation also creates initiatives to address the unique mental health needs of young people. This legislation is the first step in addressing the structural deficits in our mental health care delivery system by prioritizing the people it serves and the people who make it work.”
“The health care system in Massachusetts is only as strong as its weakest link, and for far too long, mental health care has been overlooked and underfunded,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), Senate Chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing. “This legislation confronts this reality with the most comprehensive mental health care legislation the commonwealth has seen in recent years, and it builds off of the historic investments we made in this care system over this past two-year legislative session. Of particular importance to me, this bill will finally provide the state the tools it needs to enforce existing mental health parity laws and it will address the emergency department boarding crisis that’s impacting too many of our children and their families. I have long believed that Massachusetts should deliver affordable, high quality, and accessible care to its residents, and this includes mental health care.”