Massachusetts Legislature Enacts Sweeping Legislation to Improve Access to Mental Healthcare

(BOSTON) The Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate recently passed an expansive mental healthcare bill, which was signed into law by Governor Baker on August 10, 2022. Known as the Mental Health ABC Act: Addressing Barriers to Care, this comprehensive legislation includes a wide variety of reforms to ensure equitable access to mental healthcare and remove barriers that currently make it difficult for many people to get the care they need.

“Access to quality, affordable healthcare should be a basic human right, and that includes mental healthcare just as much as physical healthcare,” said State Senator Jason Lewis. “This sweeping legislation will enable Massachusetts to make major strides in improving access to care by better enforcing mental health parity laws, expanding the mental healthcare workforce, addressing emergency room boarding, and more. This issue has long been a high priority for me and my colleagues in the state legislature and I’m very pleased that this bill has been signed into law.”

“During a national mental health emergency, Massachusetts leaders in the Legislature, Administration, and healthcare community joined to craft, pass, and sign landmark legislation to address equitable access to behavioral healthcare in the Commonwealth,” said Danna Mauch, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health (MAMH). “MAMH applauds the pacesetting institution of universal payor participation in and coverage for annual mental wellness exams, 24/7 telephonic behavioral health helpline, comprehensive crisis services, behavioral health urgent care, and collaborative care as part of this roadmap for reform.”

Some of the highlights of the Mental Health ABC Act include:

  • Guaranteeing insurance coverage for an annual mental health wellness exam, comparable to an annual physical.
  • Providing stronger tools for enforcing existing mental health parity laws.
  • Addressing the crisis of hospital emergency room boarding by, among other steps, creating online portals that provide access to real-time data on youth and adults seeking mental health and substance use services and enabling healthcare providers to easily search and find open beds.
  • Implementing the new nationwide 988 hotline that will provide 24/7 suicide prevention and behavioral health crisis services.
  • Initiating a public awareness campaign about the state’s red flag laws and extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) that limit access to guns for people at risk of hurting themselves or others.
  • Reimbursing mental health providers equitably, with a rate floor that is consistent with primary care.
  • Eliminating prior authorization for mental health acute treatment and stabilization services for adults and children.
  • Creating a standard release form for exchanging confidential mental health and substance use disorder information to facilitate access to treatment for patients with multiple healthcare providers.
  • Increasing access to Emergency Service Programs (ESPs) by requiring health insurance companies to cover ESPs, community-based and recovery-oriented programs that provide behavioral health crisis assessment, intervention, and stabilization services for people with behavioral health needs.
  • Expanding access to the evidence-based Collaborative Care Model by requiring the state-contracted and commercial health plans to cover mental health and substance use disorder benefits offered through the psychiatric collaborative care model.
  • Establishing an Office of Behavioral Health Promotion within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) to coordinate all state initiatives that promote mental, emotional, and behavioral health and wellness for Massachusetts residents.
  • Enhancing school-based behavioral health services and programming by creating a statewide technical assistance program to help schools implement school-based behavioral health services.
  • Expanding insurance coverage for vulnerable populations by enabling individuals over 26 years old who live with disabilities to remain on their parents’ health insurance.
  • Creating a roadmap on access to culturally competent care. Paired with the Legislature’s recent investment of $122 million in the behavioral health workforce through loan repayment assistance programs, this roadmap will make great strides toward building a more robust mental healthcare workforce reflective of communities’ needs.
  • Allowing for an interim licensure for Licensed Mental Health Counselors so that they can be reimbursed by insurance for their services while obtaining supervised practice hours towards full licensure and be eligible for state and federal grant and loan forgiveness programs.