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NUHW Legislative Victories Improve Patient Care

NewsApril 19, 2022

NUHW isn’t only focused on winning better wages and working conditions. We’re committed to improving patient care. And, when healthcare corporations refuse to take action at the bargaining table, we have the relationships and credibility to take our fight to Sacramento — and win.

When it comes to mental health care, NUHW members have become a driving force helping patients get the care they need and stopping insurers from delaying and denying care.

Over the past two years, we’ve teamed up with State Senator Scott Wiener and advocacy organizations including the Kennedy Forum and Steinberg Institute to sponsor and pass two landmark mental health bills.

SB 855, which went into effect this year, prevents health insurers from denying Californians medically necessary mental health care.

SB 221, which goes into effect in July, requires health insurers to provide as often and as frequently as therapists deem clinically necessary.

NUHW sponsored SB 221 to guarantee all Californians the right to receive timely access to behavioral health services. The law, which was authored by Senator Wiener and backed by leading mental health advocacy organizations, goes into effect July 2022.

Inspired by the delays and denials of care our members and their patients were experiencing at Kaiser Permanente, SB 221 requires HMOs and health insurers provide patients with mental health and substance use disorder therapy appointments within 10 business days unless the treating clinicians determines that a longer wait would not be detrimental.

The law closes a loophole that requires patients receive an initial assessment within 10 business days, but then allows HMOs and insurers to make patients wait much longer for follow-up care. At Kaiser Permanente, patients are routinely forced to wait two months between therapy sessions, a far greater interval than clinically appropriate for many diagnoses.

Senate Bill 855 requires private insurers to cover medically necessary treatments for all mental health and substance use disorders. During the bill-signing ceremony, Governor Newsom, State Senator Scott Wiener, and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg all recognized NUHW clinicians for championing the legislation.

The insurance industry lobbied hard for a veto, but Governor Newsom honored his pledge to improve access to mental health and addiction treatment.

NUHW members testified on behalf of SB 855 because they could speak directly about how private insurers routinely deny Californians the mental health and addiction treatment services that are promised in their policies.

“This is a big victory for mental health care in California,” said Susan Whitney, a former NUHW Executive Board member and Kaiser therapist, after the bill was signed into law. “SB 855 expands coverage of mental health diagnoses, for children and adults to help achieve true parity with medical or ‘physical’ health care. It also strengthens our ability to seek enforcement when there are problems accessing that care.”