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Rhode Island legislators introduce legislation to enhance mental health, substance abuse coverage

Rhode Island lawmakers are pushing for new legislation to ensure that mental and substance abuse treatment is covered by health insurance to the same extent as acute or short-term care. The bill also prohibits insurers from requiring patients to obtain a “prior authorization” before seeking treatment, a process often cited as a barrier by behavioral health advocates.

According to Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown, there is a disparity in how insurers treat chronic health issues compared to acute issues. For example, someone recovering from a diabetic coma would receive continued care for diabetes, while someone hospitalized for an overdose might be denied coverage for substance dependency treatment. Tanzi emphasizes that both cases are critical health issues that require proper care.

The legislation, sponsored by Tanzi and Sen. Linda Ujifusa, D-Portsmouth, has the support of the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island and other behavioral health care providers. Similar laws have been passed in four other states.

Sen. Ujifusa highlights the growing mental health and substance abuse issues that have arisen since the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting people of all ages and demographics. She notes that addressing these issues promptly is crucial to avoid more severe and costly problems in the future.

The proposed bill aims to level the playing field between mental and substance abuse treatment coverage and acute or short-term care coverage. It also seeks to remove administrative barriers that prevent people from receiving the care they need.

Representative Tanzi spoke about the issue saying “We believe it’s time for our state legislature to take action on this issue.” She added “We know that mental illnesses can be just as debilitating as physical illnesses, but they are often treated differently by insurance companies.”

Similar laws have already been implemented in several other states, including California, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

The proposed bill has received support from various organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The APA stated that “accessible mental health treatment is essential for individuals with mental illnesses” while NAMI emphasized “the importance of ensuring adequate coverage for mental illnesses.”

By Samantha Jones

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