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California Is Expanding Insurance Access for Teenagers Seeking Therapy on Their Own

California Is Expanding Insurance Access for Teenagers Seeking Therapy on Their Own

During their last year of high school, Esther Lau (left) and Fiona Lu advocated for a bill to expand access to mental health care for children 12 and older in low-income households in California. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it into law in October. (Esther Lau)

When she was in ninth grade, Fiona Lu fell into a depression. She had trouble adjusting to her new high school in Orange County, California, and felt so isolated and exhausted that she cried every morning.

Lu wanted to get help, but her Medi-Cal plan wouldn鈥檛 cover therapy unless she had permission from a parent or guardian.

Her mother 鈥 a single parent and an immigrant from China 鈥 worked long hours to provide for Fiona, her brother, and her grandmother. Finding time to explain to her mom what therapy was, and why she needed it, felt like too much of an obstacle.

鈥淚 wouldn’t want her to have to sign all these forms and go to therapy with me,鈥 said Lu, now 18 and a freshman at UCLA. 鈥淭here’s a lot of rhetoric in immigrant cultures that having mental health concerns and getting treatment for that is a Western phenomenon.鈥

By her senior year of high school, Lu turned that experience into activism. She campaigned to change state policy to allow children 12 and older living in low-income households to get mental health counseling without their parents鈥 consent.

In October of last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a expanding access to young patients covered by Medicaid, which is called Medi-Cal in California.

Teenagers with commercial insurance have had this privilege in the state for more than a decade. Yet parents of children who already had the ability to access care on their own were among the most vocal in opposing the expansion of that coverage by Medi-Cal.

Many parents seized on the bill to air grievances about how much control they believe the state has over their children, especially around gender identity and care.

One mother last spring calling school therapists 鈥渋ndoctrinators鈥 and saying the bill allowed them to fill children鈥檚 heads with ideas about 鈥渢ransgenderism鈥 without their parents knowing.

Those arguments were then repeated on social media and at protests held across California and in other parts of the country in late October.

At the California Capitol, several Republican lawmakers voted against the bill, AB 665. One of them was Assembly member James Gallagher of Sutter County.

鈥淚f my child is dealing with a mental health crisis, I want to know about it,鈥 Gallagher said while discussing the bill on the Assembly floor last spring. 鈥淭his misguided, and I think wrongful, trend in our policy now that is continuing to exclude parents from that equation and say they don鈥檛 need to be informed is wrong.鈥

State lawmaker for them or their families to qualify for Medi-Cal. Instead, they are offered a choice of , meaning children like Gallagher鈥檚 already have the privileges that he objected to in his speech.

To Lu, this was frustrating and hypocritical. She said she felt that the opponents lining up against AB 665 at legislative hearings were mostly middle-class parents trying to hijack the narrative.

鈥淚t鈥檚 inauthentic that they were advocating against a policy that won’t directly affect them,鈥 Lu said. 鈥淭hey don’t realize that this is a policy that will affect hundreds of thousands of other families.鈥

Sponsors of AB 665 presented the bill as a commonsense update to an existing law. In 2010, California lawmakers had made it easier for young people to access outpatient mental health treatment and emergency shelters without their parents鈥 consent by that they be in immediate crisis.

But at the last minute, lawmakers in 2010 removed the expansion of coverage for teenagers by Medi-Cal for cost reasons. More than a decade later, AB 665 is meant to close the disparity between public and private insurance and level the playing field.

鈥淭his is about equity,鈥 said Assembly member , a Los Angeles Democrat and the bill鈥檚 author.

The original law, which regulated private insurance plans, passed with bipartisan support and had in the legislature, she said. The law was signed by a Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

鈥淪ince then, the extremes on both sides have gotten so extreme that we have a hard time actually talking about the need for mental health,鈥 she said.

After Carrillo introduced the bill last year, her office faced death threats. She said the goal of the law is not to divide families but to encourage communication between parents and children through counseling.

More than 20 other states allow young people to consent to outpatient mental health treatment without their parents’ permission, including Colorado, Ohio, Tennessee, and Alabama, according to by researchers at Rowan University.

To opponents of the new law, like Erin Friday, a San Francisco Bay Area attorney, AB 665 is part of a broader campaign to take parents’ rights away in California, something she opposes regardless of what kind of health insurance children have.

Friday is a self-described lifelong Democrat. But then she discovered her teenager had come out as transgender at school and for months had been referred to by a different name and different pronouns by teachers, without Friday鈥檚 knowledge. She devoted herself to fighting bills that she saw as promoting 鈥渢ransgender ideology.鈥 She said she plans to sue to try to overturn the new California law before it takes effect this summer.

鈥淲e’re giving children autonomy they should never have,鈥 Friday said.

Under the new law, young people will be able to talk to a therapist about gender identity without their parents’ consent. But they cannot get residential treatment, medication, or gender-affirming surgery without their parents鈥 OK, as some opponents have suggested.

Nor can minors run away from home or emancipate themselves under the law, as opponents have also suggested.

鈥淭his law is not about inpatient psychiatric facilities. This law is not about changing child custody laws,鈥 said , an attorney and the director of health of the , which supported AB 665.

鈥淭his law is about ensuring when a young person needs counseling or needs a temporary roof over their head to ensure their own safety and well-being, that we want to make sure they have a way to access it,鈥 she said.

Removing the parental consent requirement could also expand the number of mental health clinicians in California willing to treat young people on Medi-Cal. Without parental consent, under the old rules, clinicians could not be paid by Medi-Cal for the counseling they provided, either in a private practice or a school counselor鈥檚 office.

Esther Lau struggled with mental health as a high school student in Fremont. Unlike Lu, she had her parents鈥 support, but she couldn鈥檛 find a therapist who accepted Medi-Cal. As the only native English speaker in her family, she had to navigate the health care bureaucracy on her own.

For her, AB 665 will give clinicians incentive to accept more young people from low-income households into their practices.

鈥淔or the opposition, it’s just about political tactics and furthering their agenda,鈥 Lau said. 鈥淭he bill was designed to expand access to Medi-Cal youth, period.鈥

This article is from a partnership that includes , , and KFF 国产精品视频 News.