THE MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE on Thursday plans to vote on a mental health bill that would improve access to mental health care, particularly for children, while ensuring that the health care system treats mental and physical health care equally.

The House bill builds on a major bill that the Senate passed in November and includes many similar provisions, addressing topics like emergency room boarding and insurance coverage for mental health care.

The two bills have to be reconciled before the session ends July 31 for anything to become law. But the fact that both bodies are passing omnibus mental health bills indicates that there is significant interest in addressing the state’s burgeoning mental health crisis.

Rep. Adrian Madaro, a Boston Democrat and the House chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery, said he is “optimistic” a bill will become law this session. “The fact that rather than scrap the entire Senate bill, we sought to build upon it and offer something that was complimentary, that’s a signal of the willingness of the House to roll up our sleeves and work with the Senate and get something over the finish line that really moves the needle for residents of the commonwealth,” Madaro said.

Senate President Karen Spilka, who has pushed hard for the passage of a mental health bill in the Senate, said she is grateful that the House released the bill. “If there is any silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that more people are willing to talk openly about their need for quality mental and behavioral health care,” Spilka said. “Yet our delivery system is broken, and people can’t easily get the care they need and deserve. With the release of this bill from the House Committee on Ways and Means, we are one step closer to transforming that delivery system.”
Amy Rosenthal, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Health Care For All, said the bill is badly needed. “While Massachusetts has made great strides in expanding health coverage, many families still face barriers to accessing the care they need,” Rosenthal said. “This is especially true for behavioral health, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already growing behavioral health crisis, especially among youth.” Rosenthal said the bill “includes language to specifically address the needs of children, adolescents, and families to help them thrive at home, in school, and in the community.”

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