Governor signs AB 665 into law, increasing mental health care access for low-income youth
No young person should ever be denied access to mental health care due to their income level. Thanks to California Gov. Gavin Newsom signing Assembly Bill 665 (Carrillo) into law on October 7, 2023, the state has taken a necessary and critical step toward removing these barriers for youth who are insured by the state's Medi-Cal program.
Existing California law allows young people ages 12 and older to consent to outpatient mental health counseling. However, due to conflicting standards in two state codes, young people utilizing Medi-Cal could only obtain care based on their own consent if they met a much higher acuity level than their peers utilizing private insurance. AB 665 eliminates this inequity by aligning the two standards, so that the law will no longer treat youth on Medi-Cal differently than their higher-income peers when they seek care for themselves.
“AB 665 ensures that mental health access is available to all young people by finally including Medi-Cal recipients to an existing ten-year old policy that has only been available to those with private insurance,” said Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), the bill’s author. “In 2020, less than 19% of teenagers on Medi-Cal received screenings for depression and a follow-up plan, even as the percentage of youth that reported experiencing adverse mental health symptoms was nearly twice that across the state. I am grateful for Governor Newsom’s strong support in rectifying a historical healthcare disparity that has denied low income young Californians their right to access mental health resources.”
Today’s young people face new and complex challenges. Youth enrolled in Medi-Cal — the majority of whom are Black and children of color — often face added stressors, such as food insecurity, housing instability, and the impacts of systemic racism. AB 665 will help ensure that these youth do not also face heightened barriers when trying to access support, and that they can get the help they need, when they need it.
“The California Alliance of Child and Family Services commends the Governor for signing this important legislation,” said CA Alliance CEO Christine Stoner-Mertz. “Ensuring the most vulnerable California youth have access to mental health services is critical during this unprecedented behavioral health crisis. The benefits of this updated law will perhaps be felt most acutely by children of color, foster youth, and those who identify as LGBTQ+, who already face worse behavioral health outcomes than their peers. We’re hopeful this legislation will help close that gap.”
“Every young person should have access to the support and health care they need to navigate life’s challenges and thrive,” said Rachel Velcoff Hults, of the National Center for Youth Law. “Ensuring the same consent standard applies to all youth, regardless of family income level, is a critical step in that direction.”
“Young people, particularly those from marginalized communities, are smart consumers and savvy navigators of a health care system that was largely built without their needs in mind," said Angela M. Vázquez, of The Children’s Partnership. "If a young person is brave enough to seek help, adults must act swiftly to address any barriers to that care. The Children’s Partnership wishes to thank the Governor and Legislature for passing AB 665 and removing an inherently unfair barrier for low-income youth to receive appropriate mental health care.”
Added Kim Lewis, Director of California Policy and Managing Attorney at the National Health Law Program: “We commend Governor Newsom for signing into law AB 665 as an important step toward addressing the disparities that exist within our behavioral health system. Youth, especially youth of color and LGBTQIA+ youth, have challenges accessing mental health care and AB 665 will remove a barrier that has prevented our most vulnerable youth from gaining access to critical mental health services. These should be accessible regardless of a youth’s insurance coverage.”
AB 665 was authored by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo. It was co-sponsored by GenerationUp,
California Alliance of Child & Family Services, California Children’s Trust, Cal Voices, the National
Center for Youth Law, the National Health Law Program, and the Children’s Partnership, and supported by a broad coalition of providers, advocates, and community organizations.
The Governor’s signing message is available at https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-
Cal Voices is the oldest, mental health, peer-run organization in California. For over 75 years, we have provided clients and their families with culturally affirming and gender-affirming peer support services, advocacy, and assistance in navigating California’s complex behavioral health care systems. We advocate for recovery-oriented services throughout the State. The majority of our clients are from traditionally un-, under-, and inappropriately- served populations, including individuals identifying as Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+, unhoused, justice-involved, immigrants/refugees. For more information, please visit https://www.calvoices.org/
The California Alliance of Child and Family Services is the champion and leading voice for community-based organizations that advocate for children and families, and for advancing policy and services on their behalf. We advocate proactively to impact policy, legislation, and budgets to increase access to care and improve service delivery for children, youth, and families in CA. For more information, please visit www.cacfs.org
California Children's Trust is committed to working together to reinvent our state’s approach to children’s social, emotional, and developmental health. We are a statewide initiative that seeks to improve child well-being through policy and systems reform. For more information, please visithttps://cachildrenstrust.org/
The Children’s Partnership is a California–based children’s advocacy organization committed to improving the lives of marginalized children where they live, learn, and play with breakthrough solutions at the intersection of research, policy, and community engagement. Since 1993, TCP has been a leading voice for children and a critical resource for communities across California and the nation, working every day to champion policies that provide all children with the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. For more information, please visit www.childrenspartnership.org
Generation Up is a California-based, nationwide student-led social justice organization and student-activist coalition that strives to advocate for education through the power of youth voices. For more information, please visit https://www.generationup.net/
The National Health Law Program protects and improves access to health care for low-income and underserved people and works to advance health equity. We believe that everyone should have access to high quality, equitable health care and be able to achieve their own highest attainable standard of health. We enforce health care and civil rights laws; advocate for better federal and state laws and policies; train, support and partner with national, state and local health and civil rights advocates; and use strategic communications to achieve these goals. For more information, please visit: https://healthlaw.org/.