AMA Applauds California’s Mental Health Reform Law

October 1, 2020

The American Medical Association recently applauded California Governor Gavin Newsom and the sponsors of the state’s new mental health reform law, Senate Bill 855, which will require all health insurers and behavioral health management organizations to rely on evidence-based treatment guidelines developed by physicians and health care professionals—and not financial considerations.

The American Medical Association (AMA) recently applauded California Governor Gavin Newsom and the sponsors of the state’s new mental health reform law, Senate Bill 855, which will require all health insurers and behavioral health management organizations to rely on evidence-based treatment guidelines developed by physicians and health care professionals—and not financial considerations.

These new state reforms go into effect January 1, 2021. Gov. Newsom signed the bill September 25 after near-unanimous votes in the California Assembly and Senate.

“This law sets a new precedent for all other states to protect patients with a mental illness or substance use disorder,” says Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A., AMA immediate past president and chair of the AMA Opioid Task Force. “Not having to fight insurance companies to use the generally accepted standards of care for our patients will improve treatment and save lives.”

The law adopts some of the most important findings of the court in Wit v. United Behavioral Healthcare, where a federal court last year issued a scathing rebuke to United Behavioral Health (UBH) for placing the payer’s financial interests over the safety and well-being of patients from 2011-2017 across four states: Connecticut, Illinois, Rhode Island and Texas. Whereas the Wit decision only applied to UBH, the reforms contained in SB 855 will apply to all health insurers in California.

In Gov. Newsom's 2020 State of the State address, he directly called for reforms to behavioral health laws that were ahead of their time when originally implemented decades ago, but now require improvements, according to the office of the governor. Specifically, the governor stated his support for removing conditions imposed on counties trying to implement Laura’s Law. AB 1976 by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), which Governor Newsom signed today, accomplishes this by expanding county use of court-ordered outpatient treatment.

“The Assisted Outpatient Treatment demonstration project started by Laura’s Law has shown for many years that we have the tools to provide effective, community-based mental health treatment to those with the greatest need. As a social worker I’ve long fought for the extension of these critical services, and expanding this program and finally making it permanent will ensure greater care for the people of California,” said Assemblymember Eggman.