Massachusetts House leaders ‘very optimistic’ about mental health reform focused on youth wellbeing and ER crisis

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Mental health reform has returned to the forefront in Beacon Hill as state officials set to tackle legislation on Thursday aimed at solving a crisis of a shortage of emergency room beds, bolstering the mental well-being of young people and to ensure that health insurance covers mental health in the same way. manner as other medical and surgical care.

Rep. Adrian Madaro, House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Addiction, and Recovery, said the bill is “complementary” to the Senate’s ABC Mental Health 2.0 Act, which the Speaker of the Senate Senate, Karen Spilka, and her fellow senators quickly headed through the chamber. last fall – before a long winter hiatus – as they warned of a growing behavioral healthcare crisis exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re taking a little different approach to trying to achieve parity, which we’ve been talking about for a while,” Madaro told reporters at the Massachusetts State House on Wednesday afternoon without going into specific details. . “We look forward to continuing the dialogue with the Senate on this and hopefully crossing the finish line. I am very optimistic.

The House bill includes several parameters to enforce insurance parity laws for mental health and addictions care, ensuring that this type of coverage is treated the same as other medical or surgical care. The bill also contains guidelines for handling consumer complaints in the event of non-compliance.

If the latest version of the bill moves through the House of Representatives, state lawmakers face a tight schedule to iron out differences before the end of the legislative session next month and send a compromise to Gov. Charlie Baker, who offered his. behavioral health care overhaul in March.

House Speaker Ron Mariano on Wednesday underscored the bill’s focus on youth mental health, as he lamented that the leading cause of death among children aged 10 to 14 is suicide.

“If that doesn’t sound the alarm bills for everyone, I don’t know what will happen,” Mariano told reporters. “So we want to make sure that we strengthen existing programs and create a few things that will help address some of these issues.”

The Chamber, for example, is proposing to create an interagency review team to address complex behavioral health or special needs, including for people under age 22 who are already eligible to receive individualized services from their school district. Parents, medical professionals, juvenile court staff, or other state officials can all seek assistance from the team when navigating conflicting treatment options.

School boards and charter school boards are responsible for developing mental health emergency plans under House legislation. School leaders should create a “rapid communication system” for a school campus and assess how long it would take to provide mobile emergency or behavioral health care.

More broadly, the legislation aims to expand behavioral health services — including prevention and intervention resources — in Massachusetts school districts. The pending programs, based on input from parents and guardians, “would focus on ensuring equitable, linguistically competent, culturally competent and developmentally appropriate responses,” according to the bill.

Echoing the Senate’s successful legislative push, the House also wants to create an online portal that health care providers and state agencies can access to get real-time insight into the status of psychiatric beds in across the Commonwealth.

The portal would delineate the number of children and adolescents waiting for beds or access to residential treatment facilities, as well as other demographic and treatment data. Similar information would be recorded for adults seeking or using inpatient beds for psychiatric disorders or substance abuse.

Senators warned in November that Bay Staters, faced with a lack of mental health resources, sometimes have to wait days or weeks in the emergency room before a psychiatric bed becomes available. ER boardings increased 400% between the start of the pandemic and last fall, according to information provided by Spilka’s office.

“We aim to create a comprehensive mental health program for all of our Commonwealth citizens,” Mariano said of the bill earlier this week, before its full text was released by the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday. bedroom. “That’s the point.”

Spilka, in a statement Wednesday afternoon, thanked House leaders for moving the Senate mental health bill forward.

“If there’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that more people are willing to talk openly about their need for quality mental and behavioral health care,” Spilka said. “Yet our delivery system is broken and people cannot easily get the care they need and deserve. With the release of this bill by the House Ways and Means Committee, we are one step closer to transforming this delivery system.

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