Senator Wiener’s Legislation on Mental Health Parity and LGTBQ Data Collection – SB 855 and SB 932 – Pass the Assembly Health Committee
SACRAMENTO - Today, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) issued the following statement regarding his bills, SB 855 and SB 932, which both passed the Assembly Health Committee last night. Both are landmark pieces of legislation that will help California understand and mitigate negative impacts of COVID-19 and other illnesses and communicable diseases.
SB 855, introduced in January with co-author Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), will require insurance companies to cover all medically necessary mental health care and substance use disorder treatments, not just emergency crisis care treatment. SB 855 is part of a growing movement to reverse the stigmatization of mental illness and addiction. This legislation is even more important in light of the COVID-19 crisis, given the significant mental health challenges that increased isolation, illness, job loss, and grief pose to people everywhere – many of whom have never struggled with mental illness before. And a new study predicts that COVID-19 could cause up to 154,000 “deaths of despair.” SB 855 would allow for easier access to non-emergency mental health services, to stop mental health challenges from escalating with early intervention and treatment. Substance use disorder (SUD) numbers are also expected to rise, and for some living with SUD, these issues have worsened and will continue to pose a serious challenge.
Because private insurance companies often provide significantly less mental health and SUD coverage while Medi-Cal provides broader coverage, people suffering from mental health and addiction challenges are switching to Medi-Cal, thus putting taxpayers on the hook for these expenses.
SB 855 is sponsored by the Kennedy Forum and the Steinberg Institute. It passed by a vote of 13-0.
Senator Wiener authored SB 932 in early May in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, given that California was collecting data on race, age, and sex with regards to cases of COVID-19, but not sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data for all COVID-19 patients. The bill was then amended in July to expand SOGI data collection to all reportable communicable diseases. Because rates of respiratory issues (from smoking), HIV/AIDS, cancer, and homelessness are higher in the LGBTQ community, LGBTQ people are likely experiencing greater health impacts from COVID-19 and other communicable diseases. Additionally, LGBTQ people are more likely to work in the service industry and in front-line jobs. Last week, the Governor’s office announced it would begin collecting SOGI data for COVID-19 and for all reportable communicable diseases. Because the LGBTQ community has historically been overlooked by our public health infrastructure, SB 932 will codify this policy into law. It will help LGBTQ people get the health resources and support they need.
SB 932 is sponsored by Equality California and the LGBTQ Health & Human Services Network, and passed by a vote of 15-0.
“SB 855 and SB 932 will get us closer to a future where all Californians receive quality, inclusive health care,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “Those living with mental illness and substance use disorder – the numbers of whom are only going up due to the economic fallout and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic – must have all of their medically necessary health care covered by private insurance, not just crisis care. And the LGBTQ community must be counted so California can understand and address the impacts of COVID-19 and other communicable diseases; our community cannot and will not be erased. SB 855 and SB 932 are both pieces of health justice legislation that get us closer to a health care system that works for even our most marginalized communities.”
“The Network is proud to support these two bills to address the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ Californians,” said Amanda Wallner-McAllister, Director of the California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network. “SB 932 will ensure that we have accurate data on how COVID-19 is impacting LGBTQ people and will help the state meet the needs of LGBTQ Californians in the wake of this pandemic and any future outbreaks. We’ve heard from our communities throughout the last several months that the pandemic and uncertainty about the future is severely impacting the mental health of LGBTQ Californians and SB 855 will provide much needed help to address those needs now.”
“Approximately 8.3 million Californians have been tested for COVID-19, but we don’t know the sexual orientation or gender identity of a single one,” said Rick Chavez Zbur, Executive Director of Equality California. We are grateful to the members of the Assembly Health Committee who voted today to advance SB 932 and to codify the Newsom Administration’s new emergency regulation to collect sexual orientation and gender identity data on COVID-19 patients. Thank you to the Governor, Senator Scott Wiener and LGBTQ+ advocates across the state for their leadership on this issue.”
“SB 855 is the most important mental health bill in many years and will put California at the forefront of national parity enforcement,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, founder of the Steinberg Institute. “It will bring private health insurance up to par with Medi-Cal, and reduce cost-shifts to the public system that occur when insurers fail to cover prevention, early intervention, and substance use treatment.”
“Today we are one step closer to stopping the blatant discrimination that continues to occur against Californians with mental health and addiction challenges at the hands of insurers," said former U.S. Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, founder of The Kennedy Forum. “Denying life-saving coverage for those attempting to get help is a grave injustice that must be addressed once and for all. Thank you to Senator Wiener and to the Assembly Health Committee for understanding the urgency of this comprehensive legislation and its undeniable connection to COVID-19 recovery.”