Bill to strengthen mental health treatment passes Senate, heads to Assembly

Political Connection

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — A state Senate bill that seeks to get more mental health services to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is now headed to the Assembly for consideration.

Current California law states that mental health conditions should be handled just like other illnesses by insurance companies.

But mental health advocates said loopholes allow insurance companies to deny coverage for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, as well as drug and alcohol use tied to mental illness.

“People who have not been diagnosed before are now getting diagnosed because of the stress and the trauma and the anxiety around this pandemic,” said Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco.

Director of California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network Amanda Wallner told FOX40 she lost an uncle to an overdose after he lost his job and was separated from his support group during the pandemic.

“No one should have to hold a funeral for a loved one on Zoom,” Wallner said. “We need access to substance abuse treatment and recovery now.”

Wiener said there are some mental health treatments that some insurance does not cover or covers only when patients are in crisis. He said that would be unacceptable if those criteria applied to other life-threatening conditions.

“Come back and see us when you have stage 4 cancer, then we’ll cover you because stage 1 isn’t serious enough,” Wiener said.

The bill’s proponents are up against the insurance lobby, which says increased mental health coverage will up insurance rates to employers by 40% at a time when businesses are suffering and may be on the hook for testing and treating employees.

Proponents of the bill say added costs would be low.

But the founder of the Steinberg Institute, which champions mental health treatment, told FOX40 that now is the time to force insurers to do what they should have been doing under the law.

“COVID is the pandemic, mental health is the epidemic and the two are related,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.

The bill was passed by the Senate Committee Monday and the Assembly Health Committee will take up the bill Tuesday.

Lawmakers said the goal is to have a bill on the governor’s desk by the end of August when the legislative session ends.

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