State Senate Passes Mental Health ABC Act: Addressing Barriers to Care

Cape and Islands State Senator Julian Cyr.

HYANNIS – The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed the Mental Health ABC Act, providing comprehensive legislation aimed at reforming the mental health care systems in Massachusetts.

Senate Bill 2519, “An Act Addressing Barriers to Care for Mental Health”, serves as the first step toward developing a more integrated system of mental health care delivery to better meet the needs of individuals and families.

“Too many people in Massachusetts struggle to access the mental health services they desperately need and deserve,” said Cape and Islands State Senator Julian Cyr.

“The reasons are many and complicated: mental health care is treated differently than physical health it is often not covered by insurance, it is difficult to access, and it is hard to talk about. By passing this bill, the Massachusetts Senate is living up to our promise to begin to transform how the Commonwealth addresses mental health.”   

Massachusetts residents have historically experienced difficulty accessing mental health services due to health inequities, leaving many without the treatment they need.

According to a 2018 report by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts, over half of a representative sample of fully insured adults who sought mental health care services reported difficulty finding said services.

The Act seeks to increase access by removing barriers to timely quality care, providing the state with more effective tools to enforce existing mental health parity laws, and investing in the mental and behavioral health workforce pipeline.

The legislation builds on progress made through state mental health parity laws passed in 2000 and 2008, and the “Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act” of 2008 at the federal level.

“We’ve actually had mental health parity laws on the books basically requiring the parity – meaning that insurance benefits for mental health and behavioral health services have to be equivalent to physical health,” continued Cyr.

“It’s been a real problem in actually seeing that realized.”   

The Mental Health ABC Act is driven by the recognition that mental health is just as important as physical health for every resident of the Commonwealth while also reflecting the Senate’s overall goal of improving access to mental health care for all.

The Senate has prioritized efforts in the 2019-20 legislative session to improve the delivery of mental health services throughout the state by appropriating record funding levels for mental health services in the FY20 budget, creating and funding a $10 million Behavioral Health Outreach, Access and Support Trust Fund, ensuring that health insurer’s provider network directories are accurate and up-to-date by eliminating “ghost networks”, and protecting clinicians from unreasonable retroactive claims denials, or “clawbakcs” of payments for services, from insurance providers.

The bill also calls for an academic study conducted by the Office of Health Equity to review the availability of culturally competent mental health care providers within networks of both public and private health care payers, as well as to identify potential barriers to care for underserved cultural, ethnic and linguistic populations and the LGBTQ community.

The Mental Health ABC Act now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

About Luke Leitner

Luke Leitner grew up in Watertown Massachusetts and now lives in West Yarmouth on the Cape. He has been a part of the news team in the News Center since the spring of 2019. He studied business communications at Western New England University.
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