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Assemblyman Marc Levine calls for timely follow-up care for mental health patients

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A state lawmaker from Marin County has introduced a bill that would ensure timely follow-up appointments for patients needing urgent mental health care.

The measure by Assemblyman Marc Levine would require that people covered by health plans offering mental health services are able to get an appointment with a mental health provider within 48 hours after their release from psychiatric centers where they were detained involuntarily. Currently, follow-up mental health appointments often take 30 days or more.

The legislation, however, does not currently apply to patients with Medi-Cal managed care plans. That includes more than 10 million people across the state.

In Sonoma County, nearly 99,700 residents receive health care coverage through Partnership HealthPlan, a nonprofit health care organization that administers Medi-Cal for several counties.

Levine is looking into the financial effect of adding Medi-Cal patients to the bill’s requirements, said Terry Schanz, chief of staff for the San Rafael Democrat. “We hope to include it in future amendments,” Schanz said.

Under existing state law, a person may be placed involuntarily into a locked psychiatric facility up to 72 hours for evaluation.

The requirement for such placement is the person must be gravely disabled or a danger to his or her self or others.

Every year, more than 136,000 adults and at least 18,000 children are placed on a 72-hour hold, according to the California Department of Health Care Services.

Mental health patients who are released from such facilities often end up waiting 30 to 60 days before they get an in-person follow-up appointment with a psychotherapist, psychiatrist or other licensed mental health professional, Schanz said.

That likely would not occur with a patient released from the hospital after suffering a cardiac condition, he said. The primary intent of the legislation, he said, is to require greater equity for mental health patients.

“The 48 hours brings parity with other medical conditions,” Schanz said.

Kaiser Permanente, the largest health insurer in Sonoma County, does not yet have a position on the legislation, AB 2242, which was introduced in the state Assembly last week, Kaiser spokesman David Ebright said.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents mental health care providers such as therapists and counselors, commended Levine’s bill. The union has for years called on insurers like Kaiser to hire more mental health workers to reduce the amount of time patients must wait for appointments.

“We know that too many people in California can’t get timely mental health care from their health plans,” said Fred Seavey, the union’s research director. “This bill would ensure that patients who most need mental health care would get rapid access to care.”

While the legislation does not currently affect Medi-Cal patients, Partnership HealthPlan supports its goal, spokesman Dustin Lyda said.

“Prompt follow-up after a mental health emergency is of critical importance,” Lyda said. “We support timely access to mental health care for our members.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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