ABC Act breaks down barriers to mental health care on-Island

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An act titled Addressing Barriers to Care (ABC) recently unveiled by the state Senate seeks to provide easy access to mental health support services across the commonwealth.

According to a press release, the act will implement sweeping parity and insurance reforms, mental health workforce pipeline improvements, and will extend the access to care for psychiatric services. 

Martha’s Vineyard representative for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Cecilia Brennan told The Times everyone at NAMI is “very excited to see where this act takes us in the future of accessibility to mental health services.”

NAMI executive director Jackie Lane took part in five separate listening sessions for the bill, and her input was used in developing the legislation, according to Brennan.

Brennan said it will take a while to implement some of the conditions and requirements in the bill, but “it’s one step in the right direction for improving access and continuum of care.”

She said one issue on the Vineyard that the bill might address is the lack of an adequate workforce, and the integration of mental health services in primary care.

“For the Vineyard, much of the issue is getting the right workforce and creating a better pipeline of candidates for these types of jobs,” Brennan said. “We want to encourage people to go into these fields.”

Brennan also said ensuring capacity in the emergency department of Massachusetts hospitals will be another possible benefit to the legislation. “We want to make sure there are enough beds and enough mental health clinicians available to meet the needs of our community,” Brennan said.

State government officials wrote in the release that mental health issues are often not covered by insurance, and are often tough topics to broach.

“Too many people in Massachusetts struggle to access the mental health services they desperately need and deserve,” said Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro), co-chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, in the release. “The reasons are many and complicated: Mental health care is treated differently than physical health, it is often not covered by insurance, it is difficult to access, and it is hard to talk about.”

The bill will effectively diminish the leverage insurance companies have in determining a patient’s course of treatment, and give health care providers and individual clinicians more say in the process as they consult with patients, the release states.