NUHW sponsors new mental health reform legislation

January 27th, 2021

NUHW has teamed up with State Sen. Scott Wiener on a new bill that would require insurance companies to provide patients with return mental health and substance use disorder treatment appointments within 10 business days, unless their clinician believes a longer gap is appropriate.

SB 221 would close a loophole that requires health plans, such as Kaiser, to provide initial appointments within 10 business days, but allows them to then make patients wait weeks or even months for follow-up appointments.

As Ann Rivello, an NUHW member and a social worker at Kaiser Permanente in Redwood City told the San Francisco Chronicle, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if mental health care was just as easy to get as medical health care?” 

Noting that the pandemic had reached a “boiling point,” she added that “People are facing joblessness, moving back at home, a difficult relationship, and we have to tell them, ‘We don’t have any appointments, don’t get your hopes up.’”

Sen. Wiener authored SB 855, the groundbreaking bill NUHW members helped pass into law last year. That bill requires private insurers to cover medically necessary treatment for all mental health and substance use disorders and requires that determinations of medical necessity be made according to criteria developed by nonprofit clinical specialty associations, not the insurers themselves.

“Mental healthcare is critically important to the health and well-being of our communities,” Senator Wiener said. “If you break a leg, you can expect to receive immediate follow-up care – no one with health insurance would be told they have to wait six months to get a cast removed because no providers were available. Yet, that’s exactly how we currently treat mental health and substance use disorder treatment. If we’re serious about access to mental health treatment — as we absolutely must be — we need to ensure timely access to care. SB 221 will do so.”

NUHW is sponsoring SB 221 and will work to try to pass it over the objections of the insurance industry.