How Legal Changes in Response to COVID-19 Can Improve Access to Community Behavioral Health

Prepared on behalf of the California Health Care Foundation

The COVID‑19 pandemic has created immense challenges for California’s community behavioral health care system and the people it serves. Traditional in-person services for mental health and substance use disorders presented a risk of contagion as the pandemic took hold. At the same time, deferring care for weeks or months created grave risks for individual health, particularly as pandemic-related stressors drove an increase in the prevalence and severity of behavioral health conditions. Recognizing these challenges, both the federal and California state governments implemented numerous legal reforms aimed at supporting providers’ efforts to preserve access to needed services in a time of social distancing and economic crisis.

In “How Legal Changes in Response to COVID-19 Can Improve Access to Community Behavioral Health,” a new report prepared by partner Robert D. Belfort and associate Julian Polaris on behalf of the California Health Care Foundation, Manatt Health discusses the impact of those legal reforms on outpatient and residential behavioral health services in California. The report first analyzes the legal changes that were adopted and implemented during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although focused primarily on Medi-Cal, the report also addresses legal changes that affected the Medicare program and commercial health plans.

Next, the report outlines the response measures that are the most promising opportunities for long-term reform. Many of these candidates have long been supported by advocates in pursuit of a more accessible and effective community behavioral health system. These reforms fall into four general categories:

  1. Coverage for Telehealth Services
  2. Medi-Cal’s Cost-Based Reimbursement System
  3. Controlled Substances and Prescription Drugs
  4. Provider Licensure and Operating Standards

To access the full report, click here.

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