NUHW’s SB 221 signed into law!

October 11th, 2021

California took a giant step toward mental health parity on Friday, October 8 as Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 221, NUHW’s legislation to reduce long waits for follow-up behavioral health care appointments. 

“This is a huge victory that will save lives and support the recoveries of countless people in need,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “SB 221 is the culmination of more than a decade of hard work by NUHW members and patient activists to shine a light on the harm so many Californians have endured from being made to wait far too long between therapy appointments.”

When SB 221 goes into effect on July 1, 2022, health plans and health insurers will be required to offer follow-up mental health and substance use treatment appointments to patients in ongoing courses of care 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 HMOs such as Kaiser Permanente to provide initial assessments within 10 business days, but then allowed them to make patients wait much longer for the follow-up care they needed.

“We didn’t accomplish this alone,” Rosselli said. “We’re grateful to State Senator Scott Wiener for authoring the legislation, and to the broad coalition of organizations that advocated for its passage including the Kennedy Forum, Steinberg Institute, National Association of Social Workers, California Psychological Association and California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.

We’re also grateful to Governor Newsom, who by signing SB 221 has further fulfilled his commitment to ensure that mental health and substance use disorders are treated with the same urgency and the same resources under the same rules as other medical conditions,” Rosselli added.

SB 221, which was co-authored by Senators Connie Leyva, Sydney Kamlager, and Josh Newman, and Assemblymembers Joaquin Arambula and Marie Waldron, passed the Assembly by a vote of 76-0 and the State Senate 35-1.  

NUHW, which represents more than 4,000 mental health clinicians including psychologists, therapists, social workers and psychiatric nurses at Kaiser Permanente, sponsored the legislation amid a decade-long struggle by mental health clinicians to improve access to care for their patients. Wait times for therapy appointments in the Kaiser system currently range from one-to-three months.

“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 Assemblymembers 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.”