Boston – Massachusetts residents would be eligible for annual mental health wellness exams – equivalent to annual physical exams – at no cost under a comprehensive mental health bill to be debated by the state Senate next week.
The bill would also create an online portal to help facilitate the transition from acute to long-term care; set aside $ 122 million to recruit and retain nearly 2,000 behavioral professionals; and establish a panel to help address barriers to caring for children with complex behavioral health needs who are in an emergency room.
The goal of the bill is to create a more robust mental health care system in line with the state’s existing health care system, advocates such as Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka believe.
For Spilka, the issue of expanding access to psychiatry is both personal and political. She has talked about the undiagnosed and untreated post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues her father, a WWII veteran, suffered for most of her life.
“I know on my own how mental states can affect the whole family, not just the person who may be experiencing mental health issues, but the whole family,” Spilka said as she unveiled the bill earlier this week.
The bill would partially rely on $ 400 million in federal U.S. rescue plan funds.
The proposal will also enforce existing laws on mental health, which aim to ensure that insurance coverage for mental health care should be equal to insurance coverage for other medical conditions.
Although the concept of mental health parity has been codified in federal and state law for decades, enforcement has been tainted as patients are often denied coverage for mental health care, advocates said.
The bill will address the enforcement issue in part by allowing the insurance department to more quickly receive and investigate parity complaints.
Another problem that the bill will address is what is known as emergency boarding or “ED boarding.” This is what happens when adults or children in a mental health crisis seek help in a hospital emergency room.
If they eventually have to be admitted to an inpatient psychiatric ward, the waiting time can be days, weeks or even months. Often in the meantime, the person seeking help has to wait for the emergency room, which receives little or no psychiatric treatment.
The bill seeks to address the problem by creating an online portal of real-time data to help healthcare providers search for open beds more easily, requiring all hospital emergency rooms to have qualified behavioral physicians to evaluate patients in need of mental health care at all opening hours, and instructs the state office of the child lawyer to prepare an annual report on the boarding school in the ED children.
The legislation will also make fairer health care providers more equitable, create a standard release form, remove prior authorization requirements from insurance providers for emergency mental health care, encourage health facilities to develop more emergency psychiatric services and increase access to mental health care in more geographically isolated areas.
While Massachusetts has made progress in expanding health coverage, many residents still face barriers to accessing the care they need, especially behavioral health care, according to Amy Rosenthal, CEO of the advocacy group Health Care for All.
Rosenthal said the Senate bill “seeks to address these barriers through several levers, including improving health insurance coverage and parity provisions, building and diversifying the workforce, addressing the emergency crisis and increasing access for particularly underserved populations.”
The bill is an updated version of legislation approved by the Senate last year.
If it is re-approved by the Senate next week, the bill will go to the Massachusetts House for consideration.