Bill Would Toughen Mental Health Parity Laws

Despite existing parity laws, less than two-thirds of people suffering from mental illness and only 10 percent with substance use disorders have access to adequate medical treatment.

The inequity places undue burden on police and firefighters, who end up spending hours on each mental health check. A 2011 survey of senior law enforcement officers in California found that dealing with mentally ill residents took away time that should be devoted to crime fighting and prevention. Sixty-four percent said they dispatched because of the public’s inability to refer the mentally ill person to treatment.

The city seeks to endorse a bill by Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) that would toughen enforcement of mental health parity laws, turning a complaint-driven process into one that’s proactive, and relieve some of the burden from public safety agencies. A proposal to support the bill comes before the Rules and Open Government Committee Wednesday.

Beall, who chairs the State Senate Select Committee on Mental Health, introduced the Mental Health Parity Enforcement Budget Act this legislative session. It builds on existing laws that aim to end discrimination by requiring health insurance coverage for mental health services to be on par with covered medical and surgical benefits.

But “compliance with state laws continues to be problematic,” Beall said.

Given California’s complaint-driven system, it could take up to three years for the patient’s case to be resolved.

Beall’s budgetary proposal changes a reactive enforcement system to one that actively prevents unjustified denials of service. It would require health plans to submit annual reports with documented evidence and surveys of consumers to the state to prove they’re in compliance. Putting such a system in place would cost the state $321,000 to start and $269,000 a year to continue.

But the California Police Chiefs Association stresses that it would slash law enforcement costs.

"Mental health services have critical public safety dimensions,” according to the organization’s support statement. “Put simply, person who are successfully treated for mental health disorders today are unlikely to come to the attention of the criminal justice system in the future."

According to Beall, for every dollar spent on addiction treatment, the state saves $7 in criminal justice costs.

San Jose, as the largest city in Santa Clara County, takes more than half of the region’s mental health emergencies and suicide calls. The San Jose Police Department endorses Beall’s proposal, saying it would improve access for the mentally ill and dramatically cut costs related to emergency room and jail admissions.

“Mental health parity is in the interests of the city of San Jose because it will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in public safety services," Beall told San Jose Inside. "We know 40 percent of prison inmates have a mental health issue. With improved mental health parity compliance, we can get officers back to fighting crime instead of spending their time triaging people with mental health disorders."

More from the San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee agenda for May 28, 2014:

  • In an effort to get the city to “work at the speed of business,” Councilwoman Rose Herrera wants to make permitting a 24-hour process.
  • Mayor Chuck Reed recommends a 3-percent salary bump for City Manager Ed Shikada, City Clerk Toni Taber, City Auditor Sharon Erickson, City Attorney Richard Doyle and Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell.
  • David Wall decries the “blighted shite-hole” (sic) that has become the old Fire Station No. 1. He suggests turning it into a garden and orchard to firefighters can eat healthy, locally grown food.
  • A group called Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility offered some direction to city leaders as they work out the details of the next-year budget and considers new tax initiatives to place on the ballot.

WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meets
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. “Mayor Chuck Reed recommends a 3-percent salary bump for City Manager Ed Shikada, City Clerk Toni Taber, City Auditor Sharon Erickson, City Attorney Richard Doyle and Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell.”

    Nope. Nope. Nope.

    • Don’t be so negative. Now that our streets and sidewalks are all in good repair, the street trees are trimmed, the parks are in good shape and bum-free, there’s no weeds and trash on city property, crime’s gone away, the airport’s security is impenetrable, the libraries are all open, and bike paths have been built along all the creeks then it’s clear that city employees deserve to be given all the money that’s left over from these accomplishments.

      • Indeed. It’s not like these are line worker salaries, these are some of (already) highest paid administrators the City has… The 3% these folks are in line to get would go a long way to mend fences with employees who took the biggest hit during the faux “Fiscal Emergency.” It’s not really a surprise that Rufas is taking care of the City’s 1%ers, while still vilifying the line workers benefits in the Mercury News.

  2. After meeting with Citizens For Fiscal Responsibility, city leaders retained the services of a foreign language expert to help them understand the meaning of the phrase “fiscal responsibility”.

  3. Gee, Jim Beall’s plan really could save the City a lot of money by removing responsibilities from public safety.
    Sounds like we could afford to lay off quite a few firefighters and police officers if this great Democrat legislator, who is as careful with other people’s money as though it was his own, successfully gets his bill to become law.
    Otherwise though, it’s hard for a sane person to understand just where the “savings” would come from.

  4. Shikada just took the job, so it’s way too early to recommend a raise. Let’s see how he performs before we make any recommendations. Know nothing about city clerk. Sharon Erickson definitely deserves a raise–she’s the best. Doyle is incompetent and should be terminated. Too bad LaDoris Cordell is a citizen. She should be deported.

        • [citation needed]
          This is tweetspeak for “I’m such a politically correct progressive that I don’t trust the evidence of my own eyes and ears and I refuse to even entertain ideas that don’t have mainstream media approval.”

          Open your eyes, Mr. Flabby Vagina. Use your brain. Get out of that liberal echo chamber you live in.

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