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Getting the word out about our new mental health access law

KaiserJuly 6, 2022

After fighting hard to pass a landmark law that requires health insurers to end dangerously long waits for mental health therapy appointments, NUHW-represented clinicians and their allies have launched a campaign to inform Californians of their new rights to access timely care.

With SB 221 slated to go into effect on July 1, clinicians Sarah Soroken and Josh Garcia joined Kaiser patients Jasmin Hakes and Riana Mutabdzija, NUHW President Sal Rosselli, and State Senator Scott Wiener for a well-attended press conference outlining their concerns that Kaiser appears unwilling to comply with the law.

SB 221, which NUHW sponsored, requires health insurers to provide individual follow-up mental health therapy appointments within 10 business days, unless the treating clinician determines that a longer wait “will not have a detrimental impact” on the health of the patient.

During the press conference, Soroken and Garcia warned that Kaiser is nowhere close to meeting the new legal standard. Garcia, a licensed clinical social worker for Kaiser in San Diego, said that his patients are waiting six weeks between therapy sessions even though Kaiser considers his clinic to be fully staffed.

Soroken shared internal Kaiser documents showing that Kaiser patients who received their initial intake on June 13 weren’t scheduled for follow-up appointments until late July in San Francisco, late August in Sacramento, and September in other parts of the Sacramento region, the Central Valley, and the Bay Area. In San Mateo County, the reports showed that patients were being put on a waiting list because Kaiser didn’t have any available appointments within three months.

“Kaiser can say it has a lot of plans to comply with SB 221,” Soroken said. “But this is the reality for Kaiser patients. The law is going into effect tomorrow, and they still can’t be seen for months.”

Rosselli called for rigorous state enforcement of the law and countered Kaiser’s claim that it was hamstrung by a lack of clinicians.

“Kaiser officials say they are trying to fill 400 mental health clinician openings, but they’re not saying the reason they have so many openings is because clinicians are leaving Kaiser in record numbers,” Rosselli said. “In the 12 months between June 2021 and the end of May M022, 668 clinicians have left Kaiser — approximately double the amount of clinicians who left each of the previous two years.”

The press conference drew news coverage from around the state, informing Californians of their new rights under the law. Outlets that reported on SB 221 taking effect included the Sacramento Bee, Politico, multiple NPR-affiliate stations, KTVU/KCBA, KRON, KGO, and KXTV in Sacramento.

NUHW also launched an online advertising campaign to inform Californians about the law and help them learn about their rights and file complaints if their insurer denies them legally-required timely mental health care appointments.

Additionally, SB 221 is also featured in one of several ads now running on BART trains in the Bay Area, calling attention to the impact that Kaiser’s underfunded behavioral health care system has had on Kaiser members, and asking others to share their story and work with us to make Kaiser prioritize behavioral health.