California To Vote On Certifying Peer Support Specialists

By Victoria Kim 07/02/19

There are more than 6,000 peer support specialists working in California but without certification, their services are not reimbursable by Medicaid.

peer support specialist talking to peer
ID 117971825 © Fizkes |

Some consider peer support specialists to play a vital role in guiding people with mental health or substance use disorder toward recovery. According to advocates, only California and South Dakota lack a certification program for these peer support specialists—defined by SAMHSA as “people who have been successful in the recovery process who help others experiencing similar situations.”

Without Certification, Peer Support Services Aren't Reimbursable By Medicaid

Currently there are more than 6,000 peer support specialists working in California, according to state Senator Jim Beall. But without being certified, their services are not reimbursable by Medicaid.

For many people who have overcome their own histories of mental illness or substance use disorder, helping peers achieve the same outcome is vital work. “For many people, having a connection to someone else who’s had this experience proves vital,” Dr. Thomas Insel, a key mental health adviser to Governor Gavin Newsom, told California Healthline.

Senator Jim Beall introduced legislation, SB-10, that would establish a certification process for peer support specialists in California—including required training, continued education and a code of ethics, according to Capital Public Radio.

“We need to have client and family driven practices. We need to have the state recognize these individuals as professionals, as part of an interdisciplinary team, bringing them up to the standards that other licensed professionals have in California,” said Adrienne Shilton, Government Affairs director of the Steinberg Institute.

SB-10 is headed to the California Assembly Health Committee after passing the State Senate with a unanimous vote in May.

Prop 63 Funding Would Go Towards Developing The Certification Program

Former Governor Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation last year, citing the high financial cost of establishing a certification program. Under SB-10, the state would be able to use funding from Proposition 63 (the Mental Health Services Act) to develop and maintain the program, according to CPR.

Advocates consider peer support specialists to play a vital role in the behavioral health care system. “Through shared understanding, respect, and mutual empowerment, peer support workers help people become and stay engaged in the recovery process and reduce the likelihood of relapse,” according to SAMHSA. “Peer support services can effectively extend the reach of treatment beyond the clinical setting into the everyday environment of those seeking a successful, sustained recovery process.”

“At the moment of being ready to discharge, I had zero idea what I was doing,” said Eric Bailey, referring to his hospitalization after a mental health crisis in 2013. He had lost everything. But a stranger guided him to peer support work.

“I was very grateful for that,” Bailey told CPR. “At that moment, I realized that there was something that I could do for myself as I was released from the hospital.”

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