BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts House approved a bill Thursday designed to expand access to mental health services.
Democratic House leaders said the proposal addresses a variety of pressing needs including acute psychiatric care, the behavioral health of young people, strengthening community-based mental health services and investing in the behavioral health workforce.
The bill was passes unanimously by the House.
Another key goal of the measure is expanding and enforcing existing mental health parity laws, which are intended to ensure that insurance coverage for mental health care is equal to insurance coverage for other medical conditions.
“Our communities across the commonwealth are facing a behavioral health crisis. These are issues that affect our families, our loved ones, our neighbors, our friends and disproportionately our youth,” said Rep. Adrian Madaro, House chairperson of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery.
“The situation is compounded by continued disparities in how behavioral health and physical health treatment services are covered,” the Boston Democrat added.
The bill would create online portals for mental health professionals to access data on mental health and substance abuse services. It also requires the launch of a public awareness campaign on the state's red flag laws and extreme risk protection orders that limit access to guns for people at risk of hurting themselves or others.
The legislation would also require licensed mental health professionals to be available during all operating hours of an emergency department and mandate school districts adopt a behavioral health crisis response plan.
The House debate came after the Massachusetts Senate in November unanimously approved their own bill that would guarantee state residents are eligible for annual mental health wellness exams at no cost — akin to annual physical exams.
The Senate bill, which passed on a 39-0 vote, would also enforce existing mental health parity laws, create an online portal to help smooth the transition from emergency to longer-term care, and dedicate $122 million to support nearly 2,000 behavioral professionals.
House leaders said their bill builds on the Senate proposal.
In March, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled his own bill that he said would help expand access to primary care and mental health services and help control rising health care and prescription drug costs.
Baker said his bill would increase investments in behavioral health care services, control factors that drive up health care costs and improve access to high quality coordinated care for people dealing with multiple health care challenges.
The House and Senate must come up with a single compromise bill to ship to Baker’s desk.
The legislature’s formal session ends July 31.