Governor Baker Proposes Mandated Greater Behavioral Care Spending Again

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday waded back into the debate over how to improve access to health care, particularly behavioral health services, with new legislation closely mirroring a proposal he made three years ago to boost spending on mental health and primary care.

Baker visited the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester to roll out the bill that he said he expects to get a "pretty solid and significant" look from lawmakers on Beacon Hill over the next four months as they pursue their own strategies to address concerns about access and cost in the health care system.

The legislation, like the governor's 2019 bill, would require providers and health insurers to boost spending on behavioral health and primary care services by 30 percent over three years, within the state's cost containment structure.

"If you don't spend the money, you're not going to get the participation," Baker said, explaining how baseline Medicare reimbursement rates currently provide an incentive for medical school graduates to pursue careers in high-end specialties where they can earn more money.

By boosting spending in the areas of mental health and primary care, Baker said Massachusetts can realign its health care industry to better serve patients before they seek care in emergency rooms for more acute health issues.

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The governor's bill would also encourage insurers to reimburse for certain behavioral health services at the same rates as they do for physical health care, make reforms to the small group insurance market to make more affordable plans available to employers and their workers, and expand the scope of practice for some providers, which Baker did by executive order during the pandemic and is now looking to cement into law.

"The pandemic has only underscored the need to treat behavioral health care services the same way we treat other health care services," Baker said.

The Senate has already passed a mental health access bill this session that is awaiting action in the House, while Speaker Rom Mariano has prioritized House-approved legislation to strengthen state oversight of hospital expansions.

Baker said that there has been "a lot of back and forth" between his administration and top Democrats on the issues addressed in his bill, which makes him hopeful that something can get done before the end of the formal lawmaking session on July 31.

Written by Matt Murphy / SHNS

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