Monday, July 14, 2008

“This is politics at its best”: Mental Health Bill Vote Tomorrow in the Senate

This afternoon, I joined about 200 people in the Senate Reading Room on the 3rd floor of the State House to hear Mary Lou Sudders announce that S.B. 2518 was reported out of committee and is on its way to the Senate floor for a vote.  She was joined in the this announcement by the leadership of the House and the Senate, along with the bills co-sponsors and the mother of Yolanda Tufts, who spoke eloquently on the importance of the bills.  Senate President Murray is planning to consider the bill on the floor of the Senate tomorrow.  Speaker Dimasi nodded when assertions of rapid movement through the house, and all were amazed.  This, AND mental health parity in the same week?  What is going on, here?
The answer, it seems, is politics at its best.  It isn't pretty, as was the original bill.  It isn't as comprehensive.  But, with any luck, soon it will be passed.
So, what does the latest version of SB 2518 do for us?
1)  Establishing who is in charge and lines of communication:  In treating children with mental illness, we need to talk to each other.  The bill calls on the Secretary of EOHHS to establish interagency collaboration through regular meetings of the various parts of the State government that deal with child mental illness, including those outside of EOHHS.  That group will provide updates to an appointed child behavioral health council for  external oversight and will set up regional interagency teams for kids with serious problems (the SED kids that are the subject of the Rosie D case).  All of these things are designed to override the roadblocks faced by families seeking services.
2)  Expanding access:  Insurers will provide coverage for a wider range of services, "a range of inpatient, intermediate, and outpatient services that permit medically necessary and active and non-custodial treatment for said mental disorders to take place in the least restrictive clinically appropriate setting and, for persons under 19 years of age."  Coupled with the Mental Health Parity Bill, this should encourage insurers to provide a broader range of services than are usually available.
3)  Early detection:  EOHHS will convene a working group to develop a plan for screening (kind of already done, under Medicaid) and school-based referral of children with behavioral and mental health problems.  Early childhood interventions are this mix as well, as is the school-based MCPAP program.
What is interesting to me is that Mental Health Parity, which was a part of the original bill, was separated into HR 1871 a while ago, and has passed the House.  So if HR 1871 passes the Senate and SB 2518 passed the House, we will have really affected change in the Commonwealth.
Yolanda Tuft's mother said it best, if I actually caught her words:  "Last year, Yolanda told us, as only one who is in the system can, that our current system is broken. The psychiatrists are too few, the therapists too often are unqualified, the insurance companies are uncaring, the medications are untried, educators are often ignorant, and the stigma is too great. This must change."  We need to get these bill through the Governor's desk to make this happen.

1)  Watch for the Senate vote.
2)  Watch for the House vote.
3)  Thank your representatives for their support.

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