The AMA applauds California Governor Gavin Newsom and the sponsors of the state's new mental health reform law, Senate Bill 855, which will require all health insurers and behavioral health management organizations to rely on evidence-based treatment guidelines developed by physicians and health care professionals—and not financial considerations.

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These new state reforms go into effect on Jan. 1. Governor Newsom signed the bill Sept. 25 after near-unanimous votes in the California Assembly and Senate. 

"This law sets a new precedent for all other states to protect patients with a mental illness or substance use disorder," said Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, AMA immediate past president and chair of the AMA Opioid Task Force. "Not having to fight insurance companies to use the generally accepted standards of care for our patients will improve treatment and save lives." 

The law adopts some of the most important findings of the court in Wit v. United Behavioral Healthcare, where a federal court last year issued a scathing rebuke to United Behavioral Health (UBH) for placing the payer's financial interests over the safety and well-being of patients from 2011-2017 across four states: Connecticut, Illinois, Rhode Island and Texas. Whereas the Wit decision only applied to UBH, the reforms contained in SB 855 will apply to all health insurers in California.

"California has set a new precedent in addressing our nation's suicide and overdose crises by taking steps to hold insurers accountable for equal coverage of mental health and addiction treatment," said former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, founder of The Kennedy Forum and lead author of the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. "Access to care matters, now more than ever. Governor Newsom has made that clear through his actions and we applaud his leadership."

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