We have long maintained that virtually every piece of major legislation has a mental health impact (i.e.—sexual harassment law, climate change, labor rights for farmers, etc.) but there are also specific legislative pieces that impact mental health directly.
Here are a few of the end of session update on legislation.
HALT Bill (banning solitary confinement)
We put out a separate update specifically on this.
While not in the final ‘big ugly’ package of bills, there was an administrative response from the Governor and the Legislature. Insuring that there is a broad definition of mental illness was our top concern because of fear that a narrowly defined definition will not deter solitary confinement for those with mental health issues.
Elimination of Prior Authorization around Substance Use Medications in Commercial Plans:
We were pleased that the legislature passed a bill that eliminates prior authorization for Suboxone and Vivitrol in commercial plans. Medication Assistance Therapy save lives and can help end the horror of addiction. The bill will now goes before the Governor for his signature. The hope is that he will sign the bill given the laudable work he and the agencies are doing around Behavioral Health Parity
Justice Center Staff Exclusion List:
This legislation would have expanded the number of agencies that would have been subject to the Justice Center’s Staff Exclusion List (SEL) to include Nursing Homes, Assisted Living Facilities and Adult Homes. The SEL has identified about five hundred individuals who work in licensed State programs in OMH, DOH, OPWDD, OASAS and OCFS facilities who have done something egregious enough to warrant their being on this list. The list now excludes people from working in any of these facilities.
This bill would have expanded the SEL to include those in DOH regulated entities. To me this is a common sense bill. If I operated any of those health licensed facilities, I would certainly want to know who was on this list and not hire them. The last person I would want working in a nursing home is someone who warrants being on the SEL list for a past transgression in another setting. Sadly, there are people who prey on vulnerable individuals in whatever setting they are in. This legislation passed the Senate but did not come up for a vote in the Assembly. We will be advocating next year for the bill’s passage
Summer Camps Hiring of Mental Health Professionals
Currently, both overnight and day camps are unable to hire individually licensed mental health professionals to work in the camps. The reason is largely around the State’s Corporate Practice Act regarding scope of practice. Yet, there is an exemption for medical professionals. This legislation sought the same exemption for mental health professionals. We believe this is an issue of parity. Cleary if summer camps can hire doctors, nurses and PA’s, shouldn’t they have the same ability to hire mental health professionals especially given all the concerns about youth and mental health that the Mental Health Education bill speaks to in great detail? The bill was passed in the Senate and was not brought up for a vote in the Assembly. Another common sense bill that was not passed into law.
Set Aside in Health Transformation Funds for Community Providers
MHANYS worked with over twenty other community groups to support a twenty five percent carve out for the State’s Health Transformation Fund for Community Providers. This fund was created in 2018—2019 as a result of the sale of Fidelis to Centene. This money has largely been earmarked for labor and hospitals. Part of the language around the fund is geared to social determinants of health.
MHA’s and other community based providers are working on a daily basis with individuals around social determinants of health. We wanted to insure a minimum of 25% be set aside for community providers who work so closely with individuals in greatest need. While we had strong support from both Health Chairs, Assemblyman Gottfried and Senator Rivera, we were unable to get the bill passed. As we continue to prioritize investments in the human service workforce, this will be an important part of this strategy moving forward.
Mid-Year Formulary Bill
Under this legislation, plans will be unable to increase the price of medications in their formularies in mid-year. This has great impact to individuals with mental health issues who often rely on medication as part of their cornerstone of recovery. Keeping costs the same annually will be a helpful safeguard. This bill has passed both houses and is awaiting signature from the Governor. We will certainly be speaking out in support when it comes to his desk.
Mental Health Teacher Training Bills
There have been a few of these bill that have been around now for several years. They seem to be a logical extension to the Mental Health In Schools Law. We will continue to work with the sponsors to help retool these bills next year.
As always, we had the two halves in Albany. The first half was the budget. This year much of our time was spent on budget fighting for workforce, mental health education, housing, veterans funding and criminal justice reform (largely around CIT and Mental Health First Aid).
The second half was around legislation There are certain reforms to the mental health system that do not have a fiscal attached to them that could help raise awareness about mental health and ending the stigma of mental illness. Recent examples include the Mental Health Education Law, the Tax Checkoff Bill and the Mental Health Public Awareness License Plate Law.
Over the summer, we will continue to meet with the Executive, Legislative Staff and our community colleagues about a myriad of issues. There is little doubt moving forward that the future priority will continue to be the community behavioral health workforce. Look for future actions over the summer that will help raise the voice of our not profit workforce.