California Senate passes NUHW-sponsored mental health parity bill

June 1st, 2021

The State Senate has overwhelmingly passed a landmark bill that would require all HMOs and health insurers in California, including Kaiser Permanente, to provide clinically necessary follow-up mental health and substance use disorder appointments within 10 business days.

SB 221, which is authored by State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco and sponsored by NUHW, passed by a vote of 31 to 7 on June 1. The bill now heads to the State Assembly for consideration.

“This is an important victory for everyone in California who is struggling with mental illness and being forced to wait weeks or months to see their therapist,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “I’m proud of the more than 4,000 mental health clinicians in our union who have fought for years, and gone on strike, to demand that their patients receive the same timely, appropriate care they would get if they had cancer or diabetes.”

SB 221 would require HMOs and insurance companies to provide return mental health and substance use disorder appointments within 10 business days, unless a mental health clinician determines that a longer wait would not be detrimental to the patient’s health. The bill would close a loophole that requires patients receive an initial mental health therapy appointment within 10 business days, but does not provide the same mandate for follow-up appointments.

The bill is backed by more than two dozen mental health advocacy organizations, including the Steinberg Institute, Kennedy Forum, California Psychological Association, California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, Mental Health America of California, California Coalition of Mental Health, California Alliance, National Association of Social Workers, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) California, Disability Rights California, Autism Speaks, California Alliance of Children and Family Services,  California Behavioral Health Planning Council, Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, California State Association of Psychiatrists, Health Access California and the California Catholic Conference.

“I’m grateful to State Sen. Wiener for introducing SB 221, and I’m proud of the strong coalition we have built, especially the NUHW members and mental health care patients who have been talking to legislators about the reality of mental health care in our state and securing support for SB 221.

There’s a lot more hard work to do, starting with securing passage in the State Assembly,” Rosselli added. “But I’m hopeful that later this year we can all celebrate SB 221 being signed into law.”