Everything You Need to Know About the Mental Health ABC Act

This month, the Massachusetts Senate passed the Mental Health: Addressing Barriers to Care (ABC) Act, comprehensive legislation aimed at reforming mental health care in Massachusetts.

For far too long, mental health has been a forgotten component of our healthcare system, resulting in a broken system that has continually left too many without the critical care they need. As someone with direct experience, I know first-hand how completely disconnected, difficult, and expensive it is to access the system as it is today. For many families with loved ones in need of mental health care, finding that care proves impossible. Due to this lack of access, our jails, courts, and emergency departments have become the de facto providers of mental health care in Massachusetts. I strongly believe that if we invest our time, money and energy into reforming our delivery of mental health services in the Commonwealth, then we can end the criminalization of mental illness, ensure that more patients get the care they need, and save the state money – and more importantly, save lives – in the long run.
The Mental Health ABC Act is the first step in accomplishing that. This important piece of legislation begins to fix our broken system by removing barriers to timely quality care, providing the state with more effective tools to enforce existing mental health parity laws, and investing in the mental health workforce pipeline. The Senate recognizes that mental health care is just as important, valuable and worthy of treatment as physical health care – and we will continue to work hard to ensure that our laws reflect that.

I want to sincerely thank Senate President Karen E. Spilka​ for recognizing the urgency of this issue and committing to a bold step forward with the passage of this bill. I also want to thank Senator Julian Cyr​, Senator Michael Rodrigues​ and all of the advocates involved in crafting this bill for their thoughtful collaboration and shared commitment to reforming our mental health care system so that it works for everyone. This is a big win for our Commonwealth — and I’m so glad I was able to be a part of it!

To learn more about the Mental Health ABC Act, please continue scrolling.


Senator Friedman joined Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), and Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery Chair Julian Cyr (D-Truro) in unveiling the Mental Health ABC Act. (Feb. 6, 2020)
Senator Friedman joined her colleagues, advocates, members of the press, and the public for a celebratory rally ahead of the Senate’s vote on the Mental Health ABC Act. (Feb. 13, 2020)
Senator Friedman explains how the Mental Health ABC Act provides the state with better tools to implement state and federal parity laws.
Senator Friedman speaks on the Senate floor in support of the Mental Health ABC Act, which was passed by the Senate on February 13, 2020.


Here is a helpful overview of the Mental Health ABC Act:

The  Mental Health ABC Act provides the state with better tools to implement and enforce our parity laws and will bring Massachusetts one step closer toward breaking down barriers that keep patients from accessing the mental healthcare they need and deserve.

Patients often face barriers to and delays in mental health treatment because of unfair insurance practices. The Mental Health ABC Act seeks to break down those barriers by placing treatment decisions in the hands of clinicians and patients – not insurance companies.

In an effort to address the mental health workforce crisis that often limits patient access to care, the Mental Health ABC Act creates a workforce pipeline to encourage and support individuals from diverse backgrounds to work toward careers in mental health.

Mental health providers often experience administrative burdens that delay care for patients in need. To address this problem, the Mental Health ABC Act makes it easier for providers to start seeing patients in a more timely manner.

The Mental Health ABC Act requires emergency departments to have at all times the capacity to evaluate and stabilize a person in the midst of a mental health crisis, and to refer them to appropriate treatment or inpatient admission.

Where you live should never determine your ability to access mental health care. The Mental Health ABC Act calls on the Department of Mental Health (DMH) to consider barriers to care like travel distance and access to transportation when contracting for services in geographically isolated and rural areas.


Mental health care is vital to routine health care
Boston Globe

Bill seeks parity between care for mental, physical ailments
Associated Press

Spilka unveils legislation to ensure mental health access for all
Boston Business Journal

Mental Health Access Bill Up In Senate Feb. 13
State House News Service / WBZ Radio

Tele-psychiatry, emergency care coverage, licensing changes: Mass. Senate adds mental health bill to the mix

Go the distance for mental health parity: Beacon Hill should act in this session to improve access to care for the mentally ill
Boston Globe

Mental Health Bill A “Personal Priority” for Friedman
Arlington Patch

Mass. Senate lauded for taking steps to fix broken mental health system Boston Globe

Senate passes Friedman bill aimed at boosting mental health care access Lexington Minuteman

Senate passes mental health bill
Commonwealth Magazine

Mass. Senate Passes Bill To Boost Mental Health Care Access
State House News Service / WGBH

‘Mental health needs to be for everyone’: Massachusetts Senate passes bill to improve behavioral health care access

Massachusetts Senate approves mental health parity bill
Associated Press

Episode 119: Debate Night & the Feeling’s Right
The Horse Race Podcast



Mental Health ABC Act Press Release
Mental Health ABC Act Fact Sheet
Mental Health ABC Act Bill Text

Having passed in the Senate, the Mental Health ABC Act is now before the House of Representatives for consideration. To track the progress of the bill, S.2519, visit the Massachusetts Legislature website.

If you have any questions, please contact the Senator’s office by phone at (617) 722-1432 or by email at Cindy.Friedman@masenate.gov.