Legislature expands mental health services |  Boston

Legislature expands mental health services | Boston

BOSTON — Health insurers would have to cover same-day psychiatric services under a pending proposal from Gov. Charlie Baker that aims to ease barriers to care and improve behavioral health services.

The bill sent to Baker’s office by the state Legislature on Monday would require insurers to cover annual mental health exams, similar to wellness checks, and require them to cover psychiatric and urgent stabilization care on the same day.

The move is the latest aimed at tackling a mental health “crisis” that experts say has been exacerbated by the disruption and isolation of the pandemic.

The House and Senate passed separate measures to address mental health issues, and a six-member conference committee worked out differences between the bills with a compromise plan approved early Monday, the final day of formal sessions.

Overhauling mental health laws was a key item on the agenda for Democratic legislative leaders, including Senate President Karen Spilka, who during debate on the proposal shared her family’s story of struggling with mental health. disease.

“We all deserve to have access to the mental health care we need, when we need it, and today we are on the brink of seeing comprehensive mental and behavioral health care reform signed into law,” said the Ashland Democrat after his final approval bill. .

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the legislation would make mental health assessments and treatment “stronger, better and more effective so that people who need care have better access to essential resources in the right place and by the right people ».

The Gloucester Republican said the changes take “necessary steps to advance and strengthen the delivery of mental health care by ensuring parity with physical care by moving pediatric mental health patients quickly from emergency departments to more appropriate treatment settings.”

The measure’s approval follows the state’s pledges to spend substantial sums of money to improve mental health coverage and care.

In December, Baker signed a $4 billion COVID-19 relief bill that diverts $400 million to expand behavioral health services and limit the “boarding” of psychiatric patients.

The measure also includes provisions aimed at reducing the number of adults and children forced to “board” emergency rooms while waiting for beds in psychiatric facilities.

As of last week, at least 478 people were boarding at 46 hospitals across the state while waiting for mental and behavioral health services, according to the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, which keeps a weekly tally.

The bill would also strengthen penalties for insurers who treat mental and physical health differently. While state and federal laws require insurers to treat behavioral health services like physical care, lawmakers and health care advocates say it doesn’t always work that way.

The plan would also require the state to do more to promote the “red flag” law that allows police, friends or relatives of a legal gun owner to seek an “extreme protection” order if they believe the person poses a danger to them. himself or others. . The order gives police the power to temporarily seize firearms and ammunition.

But gun control advocates worry that the number of citations under the law lags behind other states that have similar protections on the books. They say many people don’t know about the new law, which is likely a big factor.

Baker has until next Thursday to sign, veto or send the legislation back to lawmakers with proposed changes.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse Media Group newspapers and websites for North of Boston Media Group. Email him at [email protected]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.