Taking Care of Our Mental Health During COVID-19 ~ IN YOUR CORNER WITH SENATOR DIZOGLIO

Feb. 2021

Hello Valley Patriot Readers,

Beyond the physical and financial anxiety that countless of us have felt since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have also experienced feelings of loneliness and isolation.

While many of us have gone through life without the internet and mobile devices in the past, we haven’t gone through life without face-to-face social gatherings and a shutdown of our businesses simultaneously. The emergency and its toll on our physical health and economy have had a detrimental impact on many people’s mental health and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and addiction.

According to a recent survey conducted by the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation, more than half of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the pandemic. Many adults surveyed reported difficulty sleeping or eating, increases in alcohol consumption or substance use, and worsening chronic conditions.

Massachusetts residents have historically experienced difficulty accessing mental health services due to health inequities and persistent barriers to care, leaving many without the treatment they need and deserve. According to a 2018 report by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts, over half of a representative sample of fully insured adults who sought mental health care services reported difficulty finding services. We have too many families who struggle to obtain access to treatment, with many having to travel too far or wait too long to get help.

That is why I am grateful the Massachusetts Senate made mental health care reform a priority in the
recent legislative session.

We passed with unanimous, bipartisan support the Mental Health ABC Act, comprehensive mental health legislation that seeks to increase access by removing barriers to timely quality care, providing the state with more effective tools to enforce existing mental health parity laws, and investing in the mental and behavioral health workforce pipeline. The legislation streamlines the licensing of qualified mental health professionals and requires insurance coverage of community-based psychiatric emergency service programs.

Every day across Massachusetts, adults and children arrive in emergency departments requiring immediate treatment. Due to restrictive medical necessity and prior authorization review processes imposed by insurance companies, many patients experience barriers and delays in treatment – creating a dysfunctional system that allows insurance companies to have more leverage in determining a patient’s course of treatment than health care providers. This bill mandates coverage and eliminates prior authorization for mental health acute treatment for adults and children experiencing acute mental health crises, placing treatment decisions in the hands of the treating clinician, in consultation with the patient, rather than an insurance company.

To address the mental health workforce crisis that often limits patient access to care, the bill creates a pilot program through the Department of Higher Education aimed at creating a workforce pipeline to encourage and support individuals from diverse backgrounds to work toward careers in mental health. The bill also creates an interim licensure program for Licensed Mental Health Counselors so that they can be reimbursed by insurance for their services and be eligible for state and federal grant and loan forgiveness programs, increasing the number of licensed providers able to serve patients.

Moreover, the Legislature this session secured record funding levels for mental health services for both adults and children and passed legislation prohibiting insurers from denying coverage for mental health services and primary care services solely because they were delivered on the same day in the same facility.

Now more than ever during this emergency, we have realized how vital mental health services are to our communities. Let’s continue to look out for one another over the course of this emergency and check in on our neighbors, coworkers, family and friends to let them know they’re not alone. A phone call from someone who cares can be just the thing someone needs.

If you or a family member are experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder crisis, the Commonwealth’s Emergency Services Program/Mobile Crisis Intervention (ESP/MCI), operated by the Department of Mental Health, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call toll-free at 1 (877) 382-1609, anytime, day or night.

If you have questions about this or any other issue, please contact me and my team anytime via email at diana.dizoglio@masenate.gov or phone 978-984-7747.

Yours in service, Diana ◊