Jun 16, 2022 - News

Democrats to pass mental health care expansion

Illustration of the Massachusetts State House with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Massachusetts is likely to overhaul how mental services are accessed now that the major players on Beacon Hill have agreed to reform the way the state handles psychiatric care.

Driving the news: House leaders will push through a bill Thursday that would force health insurers and providers to emphasize mental health care alongside traditional physical care.

  • The House and Senate agreed to require insurers to cover an annual mental health wellness examination for all patients.
  • Speaker Ron Mariano has called the bill "complementary" to the Senate's version, indicating that the two branches can find a compromise before the end of the session on July 31.

Why it matters: The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the state's ongoing mental health crisis. The Senate has previously passed similar legislation, but it's taken until now for the House to sign on.

Details: Democrats are prepared to spend upwards of $200 million in federal pandemic relief funds to jumpstart workforce development programs for mental health clinicians to build a more robust service network. Gov. Charlie Baker has indicated he'd be willing to sign on if more clinicians can be trained and placed in jobs.

  • Parents and guardians of children seeking mental health care would have more options for long-term and acute solutions, including enhanced outreach at school.
  • Under the House bill, psychiatric care in hospital emergency departments would be expanded, with online tools used to identify available psychiatric beds.
  • Providers and insurers would face punishment for not treating mental health services the same as physical care. In the House plan, state price watchdogs would be empowered to track behavioral care costs and take steps to keep prices in parity with traditional care.

What they're saying: "It appears both branches recognize the crossroads that we're at on mental health services generally," House mental health committee chair Rep. Adrian Madaro told Axios, adding that the House plan "is a strong sign on a willingness to partner and get something over the finish line" this session.

What's next: The House and Senate need to work out the details between their competing plans and put a finished bill on Baker's desk by the end of next month.

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