It’s a busy week in Annapolis. Legislators will consider a number of bills that address priority areas outlined in the Maryland Behavioral Health Coalition’s 2021 Keep the Door Open Agenda.
Maryland has worked for years to address twin challenges – a growing demand for mental health and substance use treatment and a persistent behavioral health workforce shortage. The coronavirus pandemic is making matters even worse. Isolation, loss of income and grief resulting from the loss of loved ones are all having a profound impact on our mental health.
Telehealth is an essential component in our efforts to meet the increasing demand for services. The legislature will hear testimony this week on two key telehealth measures – SB 3 and SB 393. Taken together the bills would:
- Expand access to audio-only telehealth. This is an important health equity issue. Low-income families without access to the internet or smartphones and families living in rural communities with poor broadband service are unable to access audio-visual telehealth services.
- Ensure access to telehealth regardless of where the recipient is located. This is particularly important for Marylanders experiencing homelessness and for individuals who may not feel safe accessing behavioral health treatment in their home.
- Reimburse providers for telehealth services at the same rate as in-person care and reimburse behavioral health programs for telehealth services delivered by peers and paraprofessionals – two critical sectors of the behavioral health workforce.
- Protect consumer choice by ensuring that a patient may not be required to use telehealth in lieu of an in-person visit.
The public health threat from drug- and alcohol-related intoxication continues to grow. Americans are now more likely to die from opioid overdoses than car crashes. Maryland has made progress in recent years to address this epidemic, but we are still in the midst of a crisis that is devastating families across the state. Maryland overdose deaths jumped by more than 18% in the second quarter of 2020 as compared to the same period a year earlier, including a 30% increase in opioid-related deaths.
Legislative committees will consider two bills this week that are critical in our fight to reduce overdose deaths:
SB 279 will allow community-based organizations in Maryland to establish overdose and infectious disease prevention programs. The model is a proven intervention used around the world to reduce overdose deaths. These programs serve as an access point to behavioral health care and other social services, they help people reduce their use of drugs, and they have been shown to decrease overdose-related hospital admissions and associated costs.
HB 212 would expand Maryland’s Good Samaritan law to increase legal protections for individuals who call 911 seeking medical assistance for a person experiencing an overdose.
MHAMD 2021 Legislative Briefing
Mark your calendars and join MHAMD on February 22 for our 2021 Legislative Briefing!
The 2021 event will look a little different than usual. MHAMD will host a briefing that is entirely virtual and free to all. Although we will miss seeing everyone in person, we are excited about the opportunity this format presents to expand access and participation.
Join us on February 22 to hear from legislators and decision makers about the public policy issues impacting Marylanders’ behavioral health. Learn more and register here.
Of Note This Week
The Coalition priorities listed above aren’t the only important policy issues being addressed in Annapolis. Here are a few more hearings MHAMD is focused on this week. Our complete bill list is attached.
HB 309 MHAMD supports this bill requiring increased data collection and analysis regarding the racial and ethnic composition of Maryland’s health care workforce.
SB 211 MHAMD supports this bill guaranteeing up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for workers who need time to care for ailing relatives.
Further information about the material above is available on the
Maryland General Assembly website.