Progressive lawmaker pushes for Medicaid coverage of art therapy
Progressive lawmakers want art therapists to be reimbursed by Medicaid for services used as treatments for anxiety, depression and other mental health symptoms – including drama, art, dance and music therapies.
“We all recognize the dire situation when a person is suffering from a mental health disorder,” said Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno), who presented the bill, AB338, last month. “This bill is another tool in our toolbox addressing mental health disorders by opening the door that has been proven to help with a variety of conditions.”
State health officials estimate that the change would cost $752,000 per biennium. With an amendment changing the language from “art therapy” to “federally recognized creative art therapy,” the bill passed out of the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee and is on its way to the Assembly floor.
Peters said that art therapy could include painting, drawing and other mediums, dance therapy could include ballet, hip hop and modern, drama therapy could include improvisation and theater, and music therapy could include singing, composing music and playing instruments.
“We receive an average of a dozen calls a week for services, and one of the first questions asked by many individuals is ‘Do you take Medicaid?”’ said Manal Toppozada, executive director of Reno-based Note-Able Music Therapy Services.
She said more than 75 percent of her clients fall at or below federal poverty guidelines and that a lack of Medicaid coverage for art therapy is one more barrier to accessing mental health services.
Kailin Bryant, 28, has Down syndrome and was violently raped in her home in 2020. She and her mother, Mary Bryant, testified in support of AB338, stating that she received art therapy with the help of victim assistance funds.
“I bring this up because rape, of course, was a life-changing experience for Kailin and for the whole family,” said Mary Bryant. “She's very brave and resilient, but she needed some help coping with the trauma.”
Leila Uhlmeyer, a teenager, also testified in support of the policy, stating that art therapy helped her manage her bipolar depression and post-traumatic stress disorder through music and songwriting. She said Note-Able Music Therapy Services also helped her understand her emotions and express them while fostering a space where she could relate to others.
“It's really been so helpful to see other people grow in that area too,” Uhlmeyer said about managing anger or communicating effectively. “It's not only just about me, in this case, it's about so many others that have grown.”