NUHW members help pass major mental health reform bill

NewsAugust 28, 2020

NUHW’s top priority on this year’s legislative calendar was passed by the State Assembly and State Senate this month and is now heading to the desk of Governor Gavin Newsom.

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, 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.

Read this story about how SB 855 would make California a leader in providing coverage for mental illness.

NUHW’s political organizers have helped defeat attempts by the insurance industry to weaken the bill, and Kaiser clinicians have written to their legislators or met with their legislators’ top policy advisors to advocate on behalf the bill.

“It’s exciting to see the bill pass both the Assembly and State Senate, knowing that we played a part in making it happen,” said Susan Whitney, a therapist in Bakersfield who participated in a Zoom call with a legislative aide for Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, D-Los Angeles. “We’ve been fighting for so long for our patients to have the same access to mental health care as they would for any physical ailment — and this bill becoming law would be an important step forward.

The fate of SB 855 will soon rest with Gov. Newsom once the Senate and Assembly reconcile their two slightly different versions of the bill.

In addition to NUHW, the bill is backed by the Steinberg Institute and the Kennedy Forum. It was drafted in 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.