State Rep. Natalie Higgins
Last week, the House of Representatives debated and passed H4879, An Act Addressing Barriers to Care for Mental Health, which addresses five major priorities:
• Acute Psychiatric Care and Crisis Response. For many people with acute mental health needs, the only place to get help is an emergency department. Unfortunately, these patients may wait days, weeks, and even months for more appropriate admission to an inpatient psychiatric unit or less-acute level of care. One essential tool this legislation includes is an online portal that provides access to real-time data on youth and adults seeking mental health and substance use services.
• Youth Behavioral Health Initiatives. In December 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an Advisory to highlight the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis. This crisis is compounded by longer average wait times for initial assessments, ongoing therapy, and medication services for children than for adults. This legislation seeks to improve the wellness of young people by enhancing school-based supports and increasing access points for effective behavioral health treatment.
• Initiatives to Enhance Community-Based Behavioral Health Services. The legislation enhances community-based behavioral health services by streamlining and studying the behavioral health delivery system, expands health insurance coverage, and implements a technical fix to ensure individuals over 26 years old who live with disabilities can remain on their parents’ health insurance.
• Initiatives Investing in the Workforce. More clinicians are leaving than entering the behavioral health workforce due to low pay, large and increasingly acute caseloads, and costly barriers to entry. This legislation seeks to offset education and training costs to enter the workforce while improving the workplace overall to keep providers in the field. These initiatives are designed to attract and retain diverse and highly qualified mental health professionals.
• Behavioral Health Parity Implementation and Enforcement. Far too few health plans adequately value mental health services, reimbursing mental health services at lower rates than other forms of health care. This drives down the number of providers who accept or are even reimbursed by insurance and produces additional barriers to care. This legislation tackles this disparity by providing the Commonwealth additional tools to enforce existing parity laws and promote compliance.
I am grateful the House unanimously adopted Amendment No. 5, which I filed modeled after H4080, An Act relative to more accessible 911 disability indicator forms. This legislation was brought to me by an incredible constituent/advocate, Carrie Noseworthy, founder of A Safer Me. This will create a statewide disability indicator form that includes mental health needs, intellectual and developmental disabilities, complex medical needs, and neurological impairments, in consultation with organizations representing the mobility, hearing, speech and sight impaired communities.
The bill will now head to conference with the Senate.
Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s column. If you have an issue you want to connect with us on, please reach us by phone (978-227-5278) or email (Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov). We continue to host our weekly office hours — Monday nights and Friday mornings by appointment. Please email or call to sign up.