Mental Health Act a Special Victory for Senate Speaker Karen Spilka

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Colin A. Young

BOSTON — Tuesday’s signing ceremony of the state’s new 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 because of the stigma associated with it.

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 me.”

“I truly believe I wouldn’t be a senator, let alone president of the Senate, if it wasn’t for everything I went through growing up,” she said. “And I have to say it’s been a personal passion for me. And today to see you all, to see my colleagues in the state government as well (to) see this bill signed, that makes it meaningful, that I experienced that growing up. It’s something I fought for for almost 20 years in the Legislative Assembly. We know sometimes things go slow here. But that’s out of the ordinary. time. So thank you.

The new law mandates insurance coverage for an annual mental health exam similar to an annual physical exam; seeks to bring the residential school emergency crisis under control; eliminates the prior authorization requirement 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 meaningful benefits to residents across the state,” said state Rep. Adrian Madaro, D-Boston, who negotiated the bill. finale with Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro. . “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,” the governor continued. 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 most important thing this bill does is bring us much closer from a point in time when parity is really what parity thinks it is, i.e. access to behavioral health and mental health services in the same way, with the same access and the same commitment we make to all other forms of healthcare here in the Commonwealth.

Baker said he was pleased to be able to begin implementing “this huge, 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 counting on a few others – that this bill will pass,” he said. .

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