When Susan Yee Kearns brought her son home from the hospital a year and a half ago, she started worrying about him almost immediately. She woke up thinking he might have died. She was afraid to be away from him.
“There was a lot of anxiety,” the Sacramento mom said.
So she sought mental health help through her Medi-Cal insurance. But Yee Kearns' provider told her that Medi-Cal would only cover 60 days of treatment. When it was over, she wasn’t sure what to do.
“I remember thinking, I wish I could keep going,” she said. “I wish I could still see someone for the full year, even longer. I felt like I did need that support.”
Maternal mental health issues affect nearly one in five moms, according to the California Task Force on the Status of Maternal Mental Health Care. California is taking some steps to make sure patients who grapple with these conditions get more affordable and reliable treatment.
Starting in July, mothers on Medi-Cal will be covered for maternal mental health treatment for a full year instead of the current 60 days. More than $8 million is allocated in the state budget for this expansion.
Another law, taking effect in January, requires commercial and Medi-Cal plans to cover continuous mental health treatment for new moms who want to keep seeing the same provider, even if that provider leaves the insurance plan’s network. The patient can have that treatment covered for up to 12 months, so long as the provider agrees to continue seeing the patient.
That stipulation already existed for some chronic conditions, such as severe diabetes or heart disease, but maternal mental health is now being added to the list.
Dr. Alissa Erogbogbo is an OB-GYN for Ob Hospitalist Group. She practices at multiple Northern California hospitals and treats patients on both public and private insurance.
“We still have an issue with access to care, and really making sure we supply these women, after they deliver, the support that they need,” she said. “Because it doesn’t end after that pregnancy, it doesn’t end after that postpartum period. These patients do need follow-up, and they need someone they can go to reliably, to make sure that someone is taking care of them and hearing their concerns.”
Discussions about maternal mental health have been on the rise in California politics. Two laws signed in 2018 sought to improve mental health outcomes for new moms. One of them requires some hospitals to create maternal mental health training for clinical employees and education for families by Jan.1, 2020.
The other kicked in during July 2019 to require obstetricians to screen all new and expecting moms for maternal mental health disorders.
Yee Kearns said the state should do everything it possibly can to encourage new and expecting moms to get professional mental health help if they need it.
“There’s so much going on, especially if you’re a new mom,” she said. “You don’t know, and you need to talk it out … you just want some tools that a professional can provide.”
Another motherhood-related law taking effect this January will require employers to provide a clean and private lactation room that contains a place to sit, a surface for resting breast pump items and access to electricity. The employer must also provide a sink with running water and fridge for storing milk in close proximity to the lactating employee’s workspace.
Correction: This story has been update to correct the implementation date for expanding maternal mental health coverage to mothers on Medi-Cal. It starts in July, 2020.
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