I have long been an advocate for expanded access to mental health care as way to restore lives and to save taxpayer dollars by reducing costs associated with treatment, along with many related societal costs including homelessness and public safety.
This session I have joined Senator Scott Weiner (D – San Francisco) to co-author Senate Bill 221. The bill closes loopholes in current law by ensuring that HMOs and health insurers provide patients with timely follow-up care, avoiding lengthy delays in treatment that often lead to longer recovery times, worse overall outcomes, and even increased mortality rates.
Current regulations fail to provide timely access standards for follow up with caregivers such as social workers or therapists. In a recent survey, 88% of mental health therapists at California’s largest HMO reported that weekly psychotherapy treatment is not available for patients who need it and that over half wait more than 4 weeks for follow-up appointments.
SB 221 passed the Senate with bi-partisan support, and received unanimous approval from the Assembly Health Committee, on which I sit. The bill 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.
Delayed access to treatment often leads to worsening conditions, lengthy and more costly care, and often forces patients to rely on expensive emergency room treatment. On the other hand, requiring timely follow-up appointments will lead to shorter courses of treatment, reducing costs and saving taxpayer dollars.
Those struggling with mental illness can turn their lives around. Ensuring needed treatment, including follow-up appointments, will lead to better outcomes for patients, their families, and for California taxpayers.