Assembly advances NUHW-sponsored legislation

NewsApril 25, 2024

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NUHW took another major step toward improving access to mental healthcare in California this month when the State Assembly Health Committee passed two NUHW-sponsored bills, AB 3221 and AB 3260.

Despite opposition from the insurance industry, the committee passed AB 3260 by a vote of 13 to 1 vote. AB 3221 advanced without a hearing. Both bills, which are authored by Assemblymember Gail Pellerin of Santa Cruz, will now head to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“The Health Committee’s resounding support for these bills is a testament to NUHW members, who for the past decade have educated public officials about the struggles Californians face obtaining the mental health care they’re legally entitled to receive,” NUHW President Sophia Mendoza said. “Lawmakers understand there’s a mental health crisis in our state, and they’re continuing to take action.”

The two bills were introduced in February shortly after a state investigation found that Kaiser Permanente routinely denied its members access to legally required timely care and filed to resolve nearly one-third of patient grievances within the required 30-day timeframe.

AB 3221 would help the Department of Managed Health Care better enforce state law by removing roadblocks that have made it difficult for the agency to conduct effective investigations.

AB 3260 would empower patients seeking mental health care to fight for their rights and win grievances when their health plan denies them appropriate care.

The bill applies to any medical issue, but Pellerin said the biggest benefit could be for Californians seeking treatment for mental health and substance use disorders because “these are some of the areas where patients struggle most to get timely and appropriate care.”

Dr. Corrine Sako, a psychologist who chairs the Sacramento County Mental Health Board and is a member of NUHW’s Behavioral Healthcare Associate Membership program, explained to lawmakers how a drawn-out grievance procedure makes it harder for patients to advance in their recovery.

“The significant emotional distress experienced at a time like this is only made worse when their health plan fails to authorize the request for a higher level of care, or worse, fails to respond to the referral at all,” she said.

Assemblymember Mia Bonta, who chairs the Health Committee, lauded the measure before the vote was taken.

“This bill, I think, further strengthens California’s strongest consumer protection, which is the right of any enrollee to complain and appeal a health plan’s denial pursuant to California law,” she said.

NUHW members and allies will continue to advocate for both bills to be passed into law. On Mental Health Matters Day, which is May 15 at the State Capitol, NUHW will hold its annual Lobby Day with members from throughout the state engaging directly with lawmakers urging them to pass both bills and further establish California as a leader in the fight for mental health parity.