For Spilka, new mental health law culminates lifelong story


By Colin A. Young | State House Press Service

Tuesday’s signing ceremony of the new state mental health law was more than a celebration of yet another legislative achievement for Senate Speaker Karen Spilka. It was also an affirmation that a childhood clouded by a parent’s unaddressed mental health issues was worth it.

In what she says was a “moment of vulnerability and honesty” years ago, the Ashland Democrat decided to share the story of her family’s struggle with mental illness publicly. Her father suffered from significant mental health issues after his service in World War II, she said, but he did not seek help due to the associated stigma.

When they couldn’t convince her father to seek help, Spilka said she and her mother sought advice and that as a teenager she would have to introduce Haldol into her father’s food to treat its state.

“Many nights I had my younger brother sleep in the bedroom with me because I was worried he wouldn’t be alive in the morning if I let him sleep downstairs,” Spilka said in 2020.

Speaking to a crowded Senate Reading Room on Tuesday after Governor Charlie Baker recreated his signature on a new Massachusetts law that aims to elevate mental health on the same footing as physical health and make treatment more approachable, the Senate Speaker said the work to get to this point was “a bittersweet gift that my father’s legacy left to me.”

“I truly believe I wouldn’t be a senator, let alone president of the Senate, if it weren’t for everything I went through growing up as a kid. And I have to say, it’s been a personal passion. for me. And today, seeing you all, seeing my colleagues in the state government as well [to] to see this bill signed, it gives it meaning, it’s worth having lived through growing up,” Spilka said. “It’s something I fought for for nearly 20 years in the Legislative Assembly. We know sometimes things go slow here. But it’s out of time. So thanks.”

New law mandates insurance coverage for annual mental health wellness exam similar to annual physical exam, seeks to address emergency department boarding crisis, eliminates requirement for prior authorization for acute mental health treatment and requires commercial insurers to cover emergency service programs.

“This legislation contains key provisions that we can all be proud of and that will bring significant benefits to residents across the state,” Representative Adrian Madaro, who negotiated the final bill with Sen. Julian Cyr, said Tuesday. “And as has been mentioned before, there is no doubt that there is no family and no corner of the Commonwealth that is unaffected by these issues. With this step, he will continue to ensure that Massachusetts remains a leader in all forms of healthcare.”

House Speaker Ronald Mariano called the law “one of the most comprehensive mental health bills you’ll see in the country” and said it was an “exceptional honor” from the House. see it become law.

Baker, who highlighted Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders’ career devoted to issues such as mental health reform, said the new law is fundamentally about taking the necessary steps “for us bring it to a point where we have what I would describe as true parity for mental health services here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. »

“You know, that word means a lot of things to a lot of people. And I think one of the things that we’ve all learned over many years is that parity is really in the eye of the beholder, and the la the most important thing this bill does is bring us much closer to a time when parity is really what parity thinks it is, which is access to behavioral health services and mental health in the same way, with the same access and commitment that we bring to all other forms of health care here in the Commonwealth,” said Baker.

The outgoing governor said he is pleased to be able to begin implementing “this huge and positive step in the right direction for everyone in Massachusetts who suffers from this terrible and debilitating disease.”

“And I couldn’t be happier than one of my last acts working with my colleagues in the Legislative Assembly — and I’m kind of counting on a few others — that this bill will pass,” Baker said. . said.


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