The House plans to take up a mental health care bill during a formal session Thursday, House Speaker Ronald Mariano said, but the specifics of the legislation are still not clear and Mariano did not elaborate further during a press conference Monday afternoon.
A House mental health care bill would join a growing list of high-profile bills under consideration as the two branches enter the final two months of the 2021-2022 legislative session. Any bill in the House tackling mental health would also run up against mental health care legislation the Senate passed last fall, and a proposal from Gov. Charlie Baker introduced this spring.
The House meets next on Wednesday in an informal session, when Mariano said a bill would be released from committee that is “meant to complement the Senate’s plan” and create a “complete mental health program for all the citizens in the commonwealth.”
“I think you’re going to see a focus on a little bit of a different area than the Senate went into,” Mariano said, referring to legislation the Senate passed in November 2021. “I think it’s going to be released Wednesday and you ‘ll have all the details.”
The Senate bill, which cleared the branch unanimously, requires insurance companies to cover annual mental health care exams, cut down on wait times in emergency rooms for people seeking a psychiatric bed, and grow the behavioral health care workforce, among other things.
The House sent the Senate bill (S 2584) to its Ways and Means Committee — often used as a clearing house for proposals slated for floor action — in late-November 2021 and has not acted on it since.
Mariano has previously expressed support for taking up mental health care legislation before this l legislative session ends, saying in March the House would act on a bill designed to reduce the stigma around mental illnesses.
During a virtual forum hosted by the State House News Service and MASSterList, Mariano said the two branches should be able to merge their respective bills to create “a real comprehensive change in how we deal with mental health.”
Baker completes the legislative trifecta with his own proposal to address mental health and primary care. The governor’s bill looks to codify practices used during the pandemic like telehealth — a widely popular service that allows Massachusetts residents to connect with medical professionals from anywhere in the state.
Baker’s bill would require providers and insurers to increase spending on primary care and behavioral health care by 30% over the next three years, mandate insurers comply with mental health parity standards, and “provides increased flexibility for providers delivering telehealth services,” according to the governor’s office.
“The pandemic has only underscored the need to treat behavioral health care services the same way we treat other health care services, both in terms of people’s ability to access those services — but more importantly, to put them on a level playing field with respect to how and what we pay for them,” Baker said at a press conference in March.
Mariano said last Monday his branch was preparing “maybe a workplace violence bill and step therapy bill,” but did not go into additional detail. When asked if there were specific areas of workplace violence the House would address, Mariano said “no.”
Earlier that same day, the Massachusetts Nurses Association advocated for a bill that would require health care employers to conduct annual safety risk assessments, use the findings to implement programs to minimize the dangers of workplace violence to employers and patients, and provide time off for health care workers assaulted at work to address legal issues.
The Health Care Financing Committee reported the bill out favorably on June 2, sending it to the House Ways and Means Committee. A similar version filed in the Senate made its way to the Senate Ways and Means Committee in March after clearing the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
“Nurses and healthcare professionals have been dedicating themselves to safely caring for patients while suffering from an epidemic of violence for many years,” MNA President Katie Murphy said while pointing to a shooting that left four dead at Tulsa’s Saint Francis Hospital earlier this month. “Here in Massachusetts, we know all too well the potential for deadly violence in healthcare that was inflicted on innocent people in Tulsa.”