Mass. Senators Push Reform, Addressing Barriers To Mental Health Care

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BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — As a part of Tuesday's agenda on Beacon Hill, the committee on Senate Ways and Means has been referred a bill that would prioritize mental health treatment on par with a person's physical health.

Named the Mental Health ABC Act 2.0: Addressing Barriers to Care (ABC), Senators wrote that the legislation is aimed to reform the way treatment for mental health is delivered in the Commonwealth.

Among many changes, the bill would mandate insurance coverage for an annual mental health wellness exam, similar to how physical check-ups work currently. The move would signify the idea that mental health is just as important as physical health, something that lawmakers said was difficult to enforce in the past. With the current system, patients were often denied coverage for mental treatment, which Senators said, was equally as urgent as a treatment for something like diabetes or heart disease.

Since the pandemic began, the occurrence of "ED Boarding" skyrocketed to 400%. "ED Boarding," was the phrase used to describe when a patient has to wait weeks to months in the emergency department before being admitted to an inpatient unit. The proposed legislation detailed that solutions to this crisis would include creating online portals, case resolution panels, and stationing a qualified behavioral health clinician in hospitals.

The original Mental Health ABC Act was passed by the senate in 2020, and elements of the bill were signed into law over time, like standardized credentialing forms, which cut down on the time for hired mental and behavioral professionals to be approved for inclusion into an insurance network.

Last year's bill proposed a mental health worker pipeline and nurse practitioner fellowships to encourage individuals to consider a career in the field. Tele-behavioral health pilot programs were also signed into law, authorizing service in public high schools across the state.

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Senators also made many financial commitments to the cause, like planning to invest $400 million in the American Rescue Act (ARPA) to transform the behavioral health sector. $122 million was dedicated to recruiting and retaining nearly 2,000 behavioral professionals.

WBZ's Drew Moholland (@DrewWBZ) reports.

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