January 11, 2021
by Kimberly Lucey
In California, the Equal Insurance Coverage for Mental Health law begins. It requires health plans to cover medically necessary treatment for all recognized mental health and substance abuse disorders. Before this, insurers in California were only required to cover treatments for nine specified mental health disorders. Advocates argued that without easily accessible and affordable preventative care for mental health, patients only looked for treatment when they reached a crisis point. They hope this will encourage patients to reach out for help sooner.
A similar law goes into effect in Pennsylvania. It requires insurance companies to treat mental health and addiction coverage the same as a physical health care need. That includes cost sharing, in- and out-of-network coverage, and other treatment limits. Governor Tom Wolf says the measure will provide "an even better understanding of mental health parity and, therefore, better access for Pennsylvanians who seek help." Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman says leading up to this measure, they found inconsistencies with how mental health needs were covered. Now, she says "the legislation will result in greater compliance across insurance companies and improve consumer access to understandable coverage information."
Massachusetts officials say a new healthcare law in their state will also help improve access to mental health treatment. It requires insurers to cover telehealth services, including behavioral health care. "This legislation continues to advance our shared goal of transforming mental health care access and delivery in Massachusetts," says state Sen. Julian Cyr, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. "This legislation will do so much good, but particularly it will expand mental health care access for rural residents, people of color, working families, and young people.”
State health officials say their work isn't done yet. “Now more than ever do we need to ensure access to behavioral health care services, as the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need and urgency to increase behavioral health care access across the state", says Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. "I applaud the Legislature for addressing several proposals to increase coverage and address barriers to necessary behavioral health services. We plan to release our behavioral health roadmap in the coming weeks and look forward to partnering with the Legislature to implement overdue reforms to ensure we have a true behavioral health system.”
School leaders in North Carolina will start working on mental health plans for K-12 schools. These programs will include a mental health training program and suicide risk referral protocol. Lawmakers say the plans should address an additional number of topics including: substance abuse, sexual abuse prevention, sex trafficking prevention, and teenage dating violence. The law requires school personnel to have the initial mental health training complete by the end of the 2021-2022 school year.
Delaware has announced the first $700,000 in revenue from a new opioid impact fee will be spent on treatments for substance abuse disorders in 2021. Officials at the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services say the funds will help prevent overdose deaths and provide new services. They plan to increase the state's supply of medication to reverse opioid overdoses, expand clinic services to 24 hours a day, and give grants to those in treatment or recovery to be used for transportation, housing and education. “There are no easy solutions when it comes to treating people struggling with substance use disorder,” says Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long. "To be successful, we must take a truly holistic approach. This means supporting both the individual and their family as we attempt to remove the social determinant barriers that hinder an individual on a path to recovery."
Several other states are set to start working on measures in 2021. Missouri lawmakers plan on discussing a bill that would ban health insurance companies from using loopholes to avoid paying for mental health services, or making it difficult for patients to get treatment. Mississippi lawmakers have also been working on new mental health legislation. In 2019 a federal judge there ruled the state violated civil rights law by not providing enough mental health care in communities, forcing patients to be segregated in state-run hospitals.
About the Author
Kim Lucey is a freelance journalist with more than a decade of experience in the field. Her career has included coverage of big breaking news events like the Sandy Hook school shooting, lockdown in Watertown, MA following the Boston marathon bombings, and Superstorm Sandy. Her in-depth reports have garnered awards, including a focus on treating mental health issues in children. Currently, she is a reporter at a television station covering the news across the Greater Boston Area with an appreciation for fact-finding and storytelling. Follow Kim on Facebook and Twitter.