In early January, the Maryland General Assembly started their annual 90-day legislative session. It looks to be a whirlwind of a session, as there were almost 800 bills pre-filed before the session even started! As of this writing at the end of January, we have submitted testimony on 7 bills, all in support of the bills’ aims, but for several bills our support is dependent upon the inclusion of amendments offered.
Bill to authorize reimbursement for teletherapy on a permanent basis
We offered testimony supporting Senate Bill 393, which would authorize reimbursment for telehealth for MH and SUD services (including audio only services) to continue on a permanent basis following the public health emergency for the Maryland Medical Assistance Program and Health Insurance. As mentioned in Laura Groshong’s article elsewhere in this newsletter, states must take action to prevent insurance companies from discontinuing reimbursement for these services in their State, and Maryland is being proactive in introducing this bill.
Addressing issues around health disparities
We supported 2 bills having to do with addressing health disparities of racial and ethnic minorities as a result of their social determinants of health. One bill, House Bill 78, will create a Maryland Commission on Health Equity, which would examine ways for State and local government agencies to collaborate to implement policies that will positively impact the health of residents of Maryland. House Bill 28 would establish a requirement for all license health care professionals to complete a one-time implicit bias training course. The amendment we requested was to move the effective date of the bill from October 1, 2021, to April 1, 2022. Licensees would need to complete the required course by their first license renewal after the effective date.
Mental Health First Aid training to support Veterans and their families
Senate Bill 164 would incorporate “Mental Health First Aid” training into the services veterans and their families are entitle to receive in Maryland. Veterans have a high incidence of mental health and substance use disorders, but they and their families may not recognize or know how to respond to their behavioral health needs or know how to access services. We supported offering this training for veterans and their families, which can help enable them to identify and respond to mental health issues and improve the quality of their lives.
Task force to study mental health care in higher education
We presented testimony in support (with amendment) of House Bill 244 which creates a Task Force to study access to Mental Health Care in Higher Education. The Task Force is to be charged with studying policies and procedures related to the treatment on mental illness in higher education students and would make recommendations regarding issues that will enhance access and appropriate response to the mental health care needs of students by their institutions. We recommended changes to the proposed make-up of the Task Force to include a minimum of two students and one clinical social worker during our testimony, which were received positively, and our proposed language is to be added to the bill.
Increased funding and expansion of mobile crisis response teams
Testimony we presented regarding House Bill 108 supports increasing and extending funding for Maryland’s Behavioral Health Crisis Response Grant Program. The bill includes important requirements for crisis response services that will serve to minimize law enforcement interaction for individuals in crisis by expanding the use of 24/7 mobile crisis teams, which is a team including a licensed mental health professional and peer support specialist, to respond to people in crisis in the community, rather than having police respond. In our testimony, we emphasized the importance of the provision of follow-up coordination and connection to services-provided by the increased financial support, in order to decrease avoidable incarcerations, emergency room visits, hospitalizations and readmissions.
Committee to review suicides in Maryland
We supported a bill creating a Maryland Suicide Fatality Review Committee, with an amendment to include a greater range of clinical expertise necessary to appropriately review medical records relevant to identified suicide fatalities, while additionally needing the process for identifying cases and medical records to be revised to ensure that there is appropriate protection of the privacy of records.
Last but not least, possible temporary license to practice social work proposed
This is legislation advanced by NASW to allow for the issuance of a temporary license for BSWs and MSWs, pending their passage of their exam. It is intended to address both the shortage of social workers that agencies can hire, as well as new graduates’ inability to find employment, which has been exacerbated by delays as a result of COVID in administering exams to students who have completed all other required training. Initially, NASW asked that LCSW’s and LCSW-C’s also be given temporary licenses, but as a result of push-back, dropped that request. Although BSWE is opposing the bill, other professional boards, both in Maryland and in other states, have already created the ability to practice with temporary licenses. We will continue to monitor.
We are currently monitoring 26 bills of interest to clinical social workers in Maryland. Look for our June newsletter for final decisions on these and other bills.
Judy Gallant, LCSW-C, is the director of the Society’s Legislation & Advocacy program, as well as chair of the Maryland Clinical Social Work Coalition, our GWSCSW legislative committee in Maryland. She maintains a private practice in Silver Spring.
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