NUHW’s mental health parity bill awaits governor’s signature

September 29th, 2021

NUHW-represented mental health clinicians and mental health advocates aren’t taking anything for granted when it comes to a bill they have worked hard to get to Governor Newsom’s desk.

Just one week after the State Senate and Assembly passed SB 221 with overwhelming bipartisan majorities earlier this month, NUHW-members are spearheading an email campaign urging the governor to sign the bill into law. Mental health advocacy organizations, including the Kennedy Forum, are also calling on Governor Newsom to sign the bill with social media posts.

SB 221, which was authored by State Senator Scott Wiener, sponsored by NUHW, sailed through the Assembly 76-0 and the State Senate 35-1 earlier this month.

The strong bipartisan majorities demonstrate widespread support for the legislation that would require 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 would close 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 more than a month between therapy sessions, a far greater interval than clinically appropriate for many diagnoses.

“As a therapist, it’s demoralizing to know that patients aren’t getting the consistent treatment they need to get better,” said Brandi Plumley, a Kaiser therapist in Vallejo, who met with Assembly members urging them to support the bill. “There are plenty of clinicians that Kaiser can hire to provide timely care, and it’s up to us as clinicians and a union to hold Kaiser and all insurance companies accountable to this law.”

The bill, which would go into effect on July 1, 2022, is supported by a broad coalition of mental health and substance use disorder advocates and providers, including the California Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, the California Catholic Conference, the California State Association of Psychiatrists, and the Steinberg Institute.

“SB 221 has the potential to dramatically improve access to behavioral health care in our state,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “After spearheading this legislation, we must do everything in our power to make sure it is signed into law and fully implemented and enforced.”

So far, more than 300 letters have been sent to Governor Newsom, urging him to pass SB 221. To join the campaign, click here and the link will open your email program so you can modify the letter if you’d like and send it to the Governor.