NUHW’s mental health bill signed into law

October 28th, 2021

California took a giant step toward mental health parity in October when Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 221, NUHW’s legislation to reduce long waits for follow-up behavioral health care appointments.

 “This is an enormous victory that will save lives and support the recoveries of countless people in need,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “It never could have been achieved without NUHW members and patient activists joining together to educate the public about the harm so many Californians endure from excessive wait times between therapy appointments.”

When SB 221 goes into effect on July 1, 2022, health insurers will be required to offer follow-up mental health and addiction medicine appointments to patients within 10 business days — unless the treating clinician determines that a longer wait will not be detrimental to the patient’s health. 

The bill closes the loophole that required insurers, such as Kaiser Permanente, to provide initial mental health assessments within 10 business days, but then allowed them to make patients wait much longer for the follow-up care they needed.

“We worked so hard to pass this bill into law, and we’ll work just as hard to make sure it’s enforced,” said Brandi Plumley, a therapist at Kaiser Vallejo, who met with Assembly members urging them to support SB 221. “This can be a turning point for behavioral health care in California, but it has to start with Kaiser, and it has to start with Kaiser hiring more clinicians so that it can provide ethical care.”

Passing a ground-breaking bill would not have been possible without State Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, who authored the legislation, as well as a broad coalition of advocacy and professional organizations including the Kennedy Forum, Steinberg Institute, National Association of Social Workers, California Psychological Association and California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.

The bill passed the Assembly 76-0 and the State Senate 35-1 before Governor Newsom signed the bill on October 8.