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State passes new bill prioritizing mental health

The Daily Item - 8/11/2022

Aug. 12—A new mental health bill that mandates coverage for an annual mental health wellness exam, similar to an annual physical, was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker this week. The Mental Health ABC Act: Addressing Barriers to Care is meant to reform the way mental health care is delivered in Massachusetts, putting mental health on the same level as physical health.

This bill will increase access to immediate behavioral health care through the new nationwide 988 hotline that provides access to 24/7 suicide prevention and behavioral health crisis services; increase access to community-based and recovery-oriented programs; and provide the state with better tools to implement and enforce parity laws, which ensure that all patients are provided insurance coverage equally, with better structure for the Division of Insurance to receive and investigate parity complaints and come up with a timely resolution.

"For far too long, residents across the Commonwealth have struggled to receive the mental health care they so desperately need," said Rep. Peter Capano (D-Lynn). "The passage of this historic legislation affirms that mental health is just as important as physical health and ensures that everyone has access to high-quality and affordable behavioral health care."

This legislation also allows individuals over 26 years old with disabilities to remain on their parents' health insurance, expands access to psychiatric care by requiring state-contracted and commercial health plans to cover mental health and substance use disorder benefits, and makes insurance reforms including reimbursing mental health providers equitably.

"The mental and behavioral health crisis has affected countless families and individuals across

Massachusetts," said Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn). "This transformative legislation will break down barriers to treatment and make care more accessible and affordable for all. We must continue to make sure that mental health receives the same focus that we put on our physical health."

This legislation also addresses long waits in an emergency department by creating an online portal that helps providers locate available inpatient beds, which will help expedite the process.

"The passage of the ABC Act represents a major step forward in improving access to behavioral health services and establishing greater equity in health insurance coverage for Massachusetts residents," said House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr (R-North Reading). "This legislation provides for a series of comprehensive reforms that will streamline the delivery of mental health care and will help to ensure that individuals and families are not forced to wait to receive the critical services they need."

The legislation also creates an interim licensure level for licensed mental health counselors so they can be reimbursed by insurance for their services and be eligible for state and federal grant and loan forgiveness programs.

In schools, the bill would provide for enhanced behavioral health support and increased access points for effective behavioral health treatment by limiting the use of suspension and expulsion in all licensed early education and care programs and creating a statewide program to help schools implement school-based behavioral health services.

The bill also requires behavioral health assessments and referrals for children entering the foster care system and creates an interagency health equity team under the Office of Health Equity to make annual recommendations for the next three years to improve access and quality of culturally competent mental health services.

"The importance of prioritizing the mental health of our community has been reinforced by the

devastating impacts of the pandemic," said Rep. Dan Cahill (D-Lynn). "This legislation will give necessary resources to those who need help. It shows our neighbors that taking care of our mental health is vital to our overall well-being."

An Office of Behavioral Health Promotion will also be established under the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to coordinate all state initiatives that promote mental, emotional, and behavioral health and wellness for residents.

"I'm honored to work with the State Delegation on getting the ABC Act passed and onto the Governor's desk," said Rep. Donald Wong (R-Saugus). "This will be a huge benefit for a group of people that need quick and direct service."

Allysha Dunnigan can be reached at


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