Bill Aiming To Integrate Mental, Physical Health Care Wins Committee Approval

The Senate Committee on Health yesterday unanimously voted to approve a measure that would allow same-day billing in rural areas for physical and mental health office visits.

SB 1150 by Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) applies to rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers — facilities with generally low-income patients, Hueso said. Many patients are homeless and often have mental health issues that need treatment, he said.

“The current practice requires subsequent appointments,” Hueso said, “but there’s obviously a great need to provide mental health services, and most times these patients don’t return for that treatment.”

Barbara Glaser, senior legislative advocate for the California Hospital Association, said patients in rural areas often can’t get to providers easily.

“Many of these people have to travel long distances,” she said, and rural areas don’t have much public transportation. “Being able to provide physical and mental health services on the same day makes a big difference. … In the long run, it will save everyone money and help patients get better care.”

Mark Refowitz, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency and chair of CalOptima, a health insurer based in Orange County, said the change in regulations makes good sense.

“For some of these individuals, it’s difficult for them to organize their lives,” he said. “They often can’t come back to the clinic. Once they’re there, it’s an opportunity for clinicians to treat them. Clinicians can talk to one another on the same day to manage these difficult and complex cases, people with serious and persistent mental illness,” Refowitz said.

According to Erynne Jones, senior policy analyst at the California Primary Care Association, when clinicians refer patients to mental health services and they need to return another day, “There’s about a 60% to 90% dropout rate when they are referred,” she said.

The bill was approved on a 9-0 bipartisan vote.

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