Originally published by California State of Mind,, September 25, 2020
by Rob Waters
Read the original story here
When Monica Vera-Schubert’s son Bobby had his wisdom teeth pulled at the age of 15, he was prescribed Vicodin by a dentist. The next year, after a painful football injury, a doctor prescribed more, and he ended up developing a severe addiction.
Over the next several years, Bobby struggled with addiction and depression and attempted suicide at least three times as Vera-Schubert, a Los Angeles pharmacist, struggled to get treatment for him. She says had to spent enormous amounts of time battling with health insurers HealthNet and Kaiser and of dollars drawn from her own pocket to cover what the health plans wouldn’t.
“The one thing I couldn’t depend on was my insurance,” she said in a video conference on Friday. “Every time, I hit a roadblock.”
She was introduced by the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, so she could tell her story and thank him for signing a new mental health parity law, SB 855. The measure, authored by Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, will require health insurers to cover services for any mental health or substance use disorder deemed necessary by a doctor.
The video signing ceremony celebrated Newsom’s approval of a package of mental health legislation, five bills in all. The new laws place California at the forefront of efforts by states to address a nationwide mental health crisis that has been made more acute by the coronavirus pandemic.
Newsom said the bills he signed were part of the commitment he made during his campaign for governor to address mental health issues in the state. “These are bills we should be proud of, these are bills that move the agenda forward,” he said. “Looking forward to next year and years after, we are committed to improving behavioral health in the state of California.”
The laws will make it easier for Californians to get mental health treatment covered by their private health insurer, will expand the mental health workforce by making greater use of peer supports specialists, and will facilitate the ability of counties to get severely mentally ill people into outpatient treatment.
The peer support legislation, SB 803, was authored by Senator Jim Beall, D-San Jose, a leading mental health advocate in the legislature who will soon leave office after two terms. It will require the state to begin certifying peer support specialists, lay people who have personal experience with the mental health system and use their insights and empathy to help others struggling with similar issues.
Beall has been pushing legislation to expand the use of peers for several years, so Newsom’s approval of the law was a big win for him during his final months in office. During the signing ceremony, Beall noted that previous efforts to expand the use of peers and to strengthen parity laws had been vetoed by sitting governors. This time, he said, “the (coronavirus) pandemic has changed the public view. We have a pandemic of despair going on. I hope our bill will help.”
Here is a complete list of the bills signed today by the Governor:
SB 855 expands the ability of Californians who buy insurance or get it from their employers to obtain treatment for a wide array of mental health and substance use disorders. It requires commercial health insurers to pay for medically necessary treatment of any behavioral health or substance use disorder listed in the DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association manual that defines mental health conditions. The bill was sponsored by the Steinberg Institute and The Kennedy Forum, a national mental health advocacy organization founded by former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy.
SB 803 requires the state to establish statewide requirements for certifying peer support specialists. Counties that choose to do so would be responsible for implementing and managing the program and could access federal funds to partially cover the cost of employing peers, helping expand the workforce of people who can respond to the state’s mental health crisis. It was co-sponsored by the Steinberg Institute, the California Association of Mental Health Peer Run Organizations, the California County Behavioral Health Directors Association and Los Angeles County.
AB 1976 (Eggman, D-Stockton), amends the bill known as Laura’s Law, making it permanent and requiring all counties to implement the program, unless they formally opt out of doing so. The original 2002 law authorized counties to start programs to provide intensive assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) to people suffering from severe mental illness and enabled judges to order treatment for those who declined to accept offered services.
AB 1766 (Bloom) would require the state Department of Social Services to annually report the number of board-and-care homes that serve low-income Californians living with a severe mental illness, track their closures, and notify county behavioral health departments within three days of receiving notice that an operator plans to close a home. Board-and-care homes are considered a crucial, but vanishing, piece of the housing spectrum for people living with severe mental illness. AB 1766 would provide policymakers statewide data to address the loss of these homes and help counties identify appropriate living options for people with severe mental illness.
AB 890 (Wood) would enable licensed nurse practitioners to work to the full scope of their license by expanding their ability to treat patients, including those affected by mental health challenges, without a physician’s supervision. Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with extra training who have earned advanced degrees — either a master’s degree or a doctorate. Expanding the role and authority of nurse practitioners will help address the large and growing shortage of primary care physicians in California. There are currently nearly 28,000 nurse practitioners in California, according to the California Board of Registered Nursing.
AB 2265 (Quirk-Silva) allows counties to use fund from the Mental Health Services Act to treat and assess people believed to be suffering from co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.