NUHW Kaiser therapists help advance SB 855

May 26th, 2020

When one of the most comprehensive mental health reform bills in recent years was facing a pivotal vote in Sacramento, NUHW members rallied to help the bill move one step closer toward passage.

SB 855, sponsored by Senators Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco and Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would require insurers to cover all forms of mental health and substance use treatment that a patient’s doctor deems “medically necessary” — not just emergency or urgent services that existing federal and state parity laws require insurers to cover. Consequently, many Californians would no longer be forced to descend into full crisis before receiving care for mental illness, giving them a better opportunity to move forward with the support they need. 

With the bill up for a vote this month in the State Senate’s Health Committee, we learned that State Sen. Susan Rubio, who represents the San Gabriel Valley, including Baldwin Park, was a key undecided vote.

To help secure her vote, organizers and stewards in Rubio’s district worked together, with stewards urging their colleagues to either sign their name to an electronic letter to Rubio urging her to support the bill or write their own letter.

Over the course of several days, more than 60 clinicians contacted State Sen. Rubio urging her to support the legislation — and that’s what she did. With Rubio’s support, the Health Committee advanced SB-855 to the State Senate’s Appropriations Committee.

While the bill still has to clear several formidable hurdles, including opposition from the California Association of Health Plans, NUHW members showed that they can be a force in Sacramento for mental health parity.

“I participated in supporting this bill and I encouraged my coworkers to participate in supporting it too, said Graciela Olid, a psychiatric social worker at Kaiser’s Diamond Bar clinic. “It’s critical that patients have the same access to affordable mental health treatments as they do for any other type of illness.”

The bill, which is backed by the Steinberg Institute and the Kennedy Forum, is in direct response to a federal court case that found United Behavioral Health used flawed medical necessity criteria that was inconsistent with generally accepted standards of behavioral health care to wrongly deny coverage for medically necessary mental health and addiction treatment.