State Senate Releases Proposed Mental Health Bill

The Massachusetts Senate this week is expected to begin debate on a comprehensive mental health bill.
The measure, drafted by Senators Julian Cyr (D-Truro) and Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), in collaboration with the offices of Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) and Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), was reported out from Senate Ways & Means last Thursday and is scheduled for debate by the full Senate this Thursday.
A main goal of the legislation is to ensure mental health parity – that is, mandating that insurance coverage for mental healthcare should be equal to coverage for any other medical condition. Last week, Senate President Spilka was quoted as saying, “we all know in fact, it [parity] does not exist.”
According to a Senate fact sheet on the bill, it would provide the state with “better tools to implement and enforce our parity laws, including quicker evaluation and resolution of parity complaints, greater reporting and oversight of insurance carriers’ processes and policies related to mental health care coverage, and reasonable penalties and alternative remedies for when an insurance company does not comply with the law.” The bill would also eliminate insurance company prior authorization for mental health acute treatment, placing clinical determinations back into the hands of providers. 
In addition to supporting workforce development, telehealth, and the establishment of study groups, the bill would require commercial insurance carriers to cover community-based services for individuals experiencing a psychiatric emergency. Currently, these services are only paid for by MassHealth.
The proposal also calls for emergency departments “to have the capacity to evaluate and stabilize a person admitted with a mental health presentation at all times, and to refer them to appropriate treatment or inpatient admission.”
"Massachusetts hospitals have long sought true parity in coverage between behavioral health and medical/surgical care," said MHA's President & CEO Steve Walsh. "While we are still reviewing the details of the Senate proposal, we commend Senate President Spilka and Chairs Cyr, Friedman, and Rodrigues for their thoughtful proposal to bridge a bifurcated healthcare system and make concrete changes to patient access and coverage of mental health services. True implementation of parity rules will result in meaningful improvements to the health and wellbeing of our most at-risk patients. Our hospitals, health systems and other care providers look forward to working with the legislature on the passage of this important effort.”