(BOSTON) – On Thursday, June 16, Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass H.4879, An Act addressing barriers to care for mental health  on a unanimous 155-0 vote.  The bill aims to bolster mental health services in the Commonwealth by taking steps to address mental health parity, increasing access to youth behavioral health care, implementing the federally created 988 crisis hotline, and addressing emergency room boarding, in addition to several other updates related to behavioral health care and substance use disorder treatment.

Some highlights in the legislation include:

  • Taking a major step toward implementing and enforcing mental health parity, the concept that insurance coverage for mental health care should be equal to insurance coverage for any other medical condition;
  • Expanding insurance coverage of critical behavioral health services, including annual wellness exams comparable to existing annual physical exams;
  • Requiring MassHealth to cover postpartum depression screenings by pediatricians for 12 months after birth;
  • Enhancing school-based behavioral health services and increased access to services, which includes granting the Office of the Child Advocate the authority to assist children and families in resolving issues with access to services;
  • Tackling the problem of Emergency Department boarding for youth and adults with acute mental health needs;
  • Implementing the nationwide 988 hotline to access 24/7 suicide prevention and behavioral health crisis services. The legislation also calls for training, funding, and capacity for regional emergency responses to behavior health crises to bridge the gap until 988 can be fully implemented;
  • Improving community-based behavioral health services; and
  • Building upon the Behavioral Health Trust Fund, including a scholarship program to increase behavioral health workforce diversity and a grant program to promote the mental health and wellbeing of providers.

Responsive to recent tragedies and in an effort to crack down on gun violence, the bill also directs the Department of Public Health to conduct a public awareness campaign on red flag laws and Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs).

“This legislation makes significant investments that meet the moment as we continue to navigate the impacts of the global pandemic, chief among them a mental health crisis,” said State Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull). “I look forward to seeing the positive, tangible changes in mental health for youth and adults that these investments will engender in our communities on the South Shore and beyond.”

The Senate passed its version of mental health legislation in November, and legislators will now have until the end of July to craft a compromise version of the House and Senate legislation in a conference committee.