2021 Keep the Door Open Update   

This is the last full week of the 2021 legislative session!  

MHAMD and the Maryland Behavioral Health Coalition have been working since January to expand access to critical mental health and substance use services. After three months of work, many of our legislative priorities are either over the finish line or well-positioned for the final push. 

With the Maryland General Assembly set to adjourn next Monday, April 12, here’s how things stand. 

Public Behavioral Health System of Care

Emergency legislation authorizing the Maryland Insurance Administration to levy penalties against Optum Maryland for failing to meet minimum performance standards has passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. SB 638 | HB 919 is a critical tool in the Coalition’s continuing efforts to address challenges and deficiencies in Optum’s management of the public behavioral health system. As emergency legislation, the bill will become law immediately upon approval by Governor Hogan. 


Both the House and Senate have passed legislation to ensure continued access to vital telehealth services. The bills guarantee access to audio-only telehealth, provide for the delivery of telehealth regardless of where the recipient is located, and require that providers are reimbursed for telehealth at the same rate as in-person care. As passed, the House and Senate bills feature minor inconsistencies in a provision designed to protect consumer choice in the mode of service delivery. However, stakeholders worked last week to resolve those differences, agreeing to language that prohibits commercial insurers from denying coverage for an in-person behavioral health service “solely because that service may also be provided via telehealth.” SB 3 | HB 123 appears poised for final passage this week. 

Health Equity

Both the House and Senate have passed SB 52 | HB 78 to establish the Maryland Commission on Health Equity. The Commission – whose membership includes leadership from over 20 state agencies – will use a health equity framework to examine the impact of various social determinants on the health of Maryland residents and provide recommendations to reduce health disparities. 

Both the House and Senate have passed HB 463 to create a process for designation of Health Equity Resource Communities (HERCs) across Maryland. The bill is intended to target state resources to specific underserved areas to reduce health disparities, improve health outcomes and access to primary care, promote prevention services, and reduce health care costs and hospital admissions and readmissions. Differences between the chambers will need to be reconciled this week. 

Crisis Services

The Senate passed legislation unanimously to increase and extend funding for Maryland’s Behavioral Health Crisis Response Grant Program. This program is a critical component of Maryland’s crisis response system. In just two years it has helped expand mobile crisis teams in Baltimore City and Caroline, Carroll, Dorchester, Harford, Somerset, Talbot, Washington, and Wicomico Counties. The program is also supporting walk-in crisis services in Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, and Harford Counties. A House subcommittee voted this week in support of an amended version that differs in program funding amounts. Those differences will need to be reconciled before final passage. 

Please refer to the attached bill list for the current status of every bill MHAMD has tracked and taken a position on this session. 

Note: There will be no MHAMD Weekly Legislative Update next Monday. Instead, watch Tuesday for the MHAMD Session Summary – a detailed account of all final budgetary and policy outcomes from the 2021 legislative session. 

Further information about the material above is available on the Maryland General Assembly website. 

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