Press Release

Assembly Health Committee Passes Senator Wiener’s Legislation To Expand Youth Mental Health Access

SACRAMENTO – The Assembly Health Committee passed Senator Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 294, the Youth Mental Health Access Act. SB 294 removes barriers to youth accessing mental health treatments by requiring that any mental health treatment denials made by private insurance companies be automatically referred to the state’s existing Independent Medical Review (IMR) process. The bill passed 12-3.

“Our youth are facing a mental health crisis, and we need to remove barriers to access to those who are being wrongfully denied mental healthcare,” said Senator Wiener. “The Youth Mental Health Access Act gives families a fair shot at securing mental healthcare for their children by removing bureaucratic hurdles to getting help when they are denied that care.”

Mental health challenges have exploded among California youth in recent years, but far too many youth are still being unjustly denied mental health coverage by their health plans. When these mental healthcare denials are brought before the state’s independent medical review (IMR) process they are corrected, in 2022 approximately 68% of IMR requests resulted in patients receiving the treatment they were denied.

Under current law, parents of children denied care must submit a complaint to the state with the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) to access the IMR process. Modeled on an existing Medicare process, SB 294 removes these barriers by automatically placing mental health treatment denials to patients age 26 or younger under review. Instead of allowing children whose parents never initiate the process - whether due to language barriers, health literacy, demanding jobs, or other extenuating circumstances - to fall through the cracks, SB 294 gives all children an equal chance at a process proven to improve access to mental health services.

SB 294 (introduced last year as SB 238) builds on ​​existing mental health laws, like SB 855 (Wiener, 2020), which now require health plans to provide medically necessary mental health treatment. The bill is sponsored by Children Now.