By Bob Katzen

Governor Baker signed into law 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 I am pleased to sign legislation that expands access to behavioral health services, enhances our understanding of behavioral health challenges and takes steps to ensure our health care system treats mental health the same way we do physical health,” Gov. Baker said. “The COVID-19 pandemic underscored long-standing challenges in this area, which is why our administration has made significant investments to increase access through our Behavioral Health Roadmap. The new law signed today will build on that work and affirms the shared commitment of our administration, the Legislature and our health care community to better support our residents’ behavioral health needs.”

“While Massachusetts has made great strides in expanding health coverage, many families still face barriers to accessing the care they need,” said Amy Rosenthal, executive director at Health Care for All. “This is especially true as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an already growing behavioral health crisis, especially among young adults and children. The bill also establishes enhanced reporting and monitoring of the behavioral health system and addresses the specific needs of children, adolescents and their families. We are pleased that residents will receive the essential care needed to help them thrive at home, in their workplace and in the community.”

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