Massachusetts Medical Society: Massachusetts Medical Society applauds Senate Mental Health ABC 2.0 Act

Massachusetts Medical Society applauds Senate Mental Health ABC 2.0 Act

The Massachusetts Medical Society applauds our Senate leadership, Senate President Karen Spilka, Sen. Julian Cyr, Sen. Cindy Friedman, and Sen. Michael Rodrigues for the passage of the Mental Health ABC Act 2.0: Addressing Barriers to Care. This legislation reforms mental health care in the Commonwealth, strengthening tools to better enforce existing mental health parity laws and, most urgently, addressing the current boarding crisis in emergency departments (EDs), to ensure that our patients will have timely access to high quality, comprehensive mental health care.

COVID-19 has laid bare and exacerbated a severe behavioral health crisis, the impact of which is felt by all aspects of the health care system. From significant shortages in the workforce to the ongoing ED boarding crisis that exists for both children and adults, Massachusetts has reached an inflection point and this legislation is critically needed to drive real and measurable progress toward achieving behavioral health care on a par with care of other body systems.

Despite the existence of laws requiring parity in coverage, mental health care services for too long have not been treated equitably with physical health. From requiring coverage of annual mental health wellness exams, to giving the Division of Insurance and other state agencies better tools to enforce existing protections, to reducing procedural hassles associated with obtaining mental health care, this bill makes substantial progress toward removing barriers and improving access.

This bill contains critical measures to address the complexities of the ED boarding crisis, such as requiring coverage and eliminating restrictive prior authorization requirements for acute mental health care during a crisis – rightfully placing treatment decisions in the hands of the clinician and their patient. It also establishes a complex case resolution panel to help resolve barriers to care for children and creates an online portal that enables access to real-time data on available beds, which will allow health care providers to more easily search and find open beds for their patients.

The Society is pleased with the proposed measures aimed at expanding and diversifying the pool of mental health professionals and improving access to culturally competent, team-based care for all patients, including those marginalized populations most impacted by adverse social factors or geographical isolation.

This legislation, alongside momentous investments in mental and behavioral health through the allocation of American Rescue Plan Funds, will help achieve meaningful progress toward our mutual goal of true parity of mental and physical health care and the recognition that behavioral health services are a crucial component in caring for the whole patient.

-Carole E. Allen, MD, MBA, FAAP, President, Massachusetts Medical Society

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